Aiden Markram enjoyed a remarkable start to Test cricket, scoring two hundreds in his first three matches, but those scores of 143 and 125 came against Bangladesh and Zimbabwe. The 23-year old South African opener was faced with a far stiffer challenge at Newlands, where on a surface with plenty of movement and against a fast-bowling attack with more menace, he scored 5 and 34.
“It was a massive step up,” Markram said of playing against India. “There’s a reason why they are the No 1 team in the world. They have quality players in all departments. They tick all the boxes and they have come here to compete, which is great. For me as a young guy, it is awesome.”
Although he was worked out in the first innings, when conditions greatly favoured new-ball bowling, Markram made a better impression in the second, finishing one run shy of the top-scorer AB de Villiers. He made 34 off 43 balls, hitting seven fours in the process. When asked about the knock, he said: “You obviously have a game plan according to wickets, and you might have to adapt on certain pitches. I didn’t want to lose the intensity that I bat at – it’s something I keep close to me and gauge often. I generally feel when I’m batting at the right intensity I move a bit better and my positions are stronger, so that’s something I challenge myself to achieve. It starts in training. Luckily we have a great attack to face and it’s never easy.”
South Africa have wanted conditions that assist quicks and negate spin when they play at home against Asian teams, and their head coach Ottis Gibson has made it clear that he wants to fit four fast bowlers into the XI as often as possible. Given that, and the fact the series is moving upcountry, where pitches are quicker as well, there is likely to be little respite for the batsmen on both sides.
“We got an insight into how the pitches are going to be in this series,” Markram said. “It’s about forming a game plan according to that. We’ve had a couple of days off now to think about that. That’s the direction we want to go in, to feel that as batters it’s not that we can’t score runs here. And look to score, according to how the wicket is going to play.
“Each player needs to adapt his game plan to conditions. It’s something your partner needs to understand, and see when you’re getting a bit loose. There isn’t a fixed blueprint but it’s something we’re chatting about to keep that positive affirmation happening.”
In that regard, Markram was pleased he usually walks out to bat with Dean Elgar. “He’s very experienced now in Test cricket. We’ve come a long way playing together at the Titans. He helps to calm me down a bit – it’s something familiar. There are quite a few unfamiliarities for me so it’s nice to have Dean at the other end to calm it all down and make it feel more comfortable.”
The venue for the second Test is Centurion and, based on previous experience, Markram said: “it’s a wicket where if you set yourself up as a batter, there are runs to be had. But as a bowler, with the pace and bounce, you always have a shout as well. It’s going to be an exciting match.”