Cape Town – The art of the leave: especially for opening batsmen, it is virtually as important a consideration as run-making stroke-play.
We already know that Aiden Markram, one of the biggest success stories of the just-completed South African season, has an impressively classical, decisive range of shots.
Still just a tad less convincing in his batting makeup – and hardly uncommon among emerging young players – is his realisation and judgement of when not to “go fishing” outside off-stump.
It cost him his wicket a couple of times in the home Test series against India, when pitches were pretty challenging and responsive to seam movement, although he did seem to tighten up his technique anyway when the Australians were next guests on less sporty surfaces – yet also convincingly enough beaten by the Proteas.
Markram, 23, is by all accounts an admirable learner, always open to ways to self-improve.
It is probably just one reason, but an important one, why he is about to embark on a four-match stint in the County Championship (four-day, first-class fare exclusively) with Durham.
The big “kick-off” for him will be on Friday, when the northern-most county, at their Chester-le-Street home venue, tackle Kent in their opening fixture.
Early season in England, when it is quite likely to be damp and even three-jerseys frigid on occasion, is a tough place for openers, and even more so at counties distant from the more temperate south of the nation.
Presumably Dale Benkenstein, the new Proteas batting coach and once a popular middle-order servant for many years at Durham, will have testified very knowledgeably to that in conversation with Markram over the closing weeks of the local Test summer.
But it is exactly why Markram having a few weeks in the Championship – unglamorous and poorly-attended though it largely is – seems an excellent, constructive move on his tantalising, fast-moving career path.
The Titans player has enough known, dashing strings to his attacking bow, after all, to potentially have been coaxed into a lucrative hook-up instead with an Indian Premier League outfit.
Bear in mind that South Africa’s next Test obligations will be in Sri Lanka in roughly three months’ time, so any exposure to Subcontinent surfaces would also be valuable.
But IPL tracks, tailor-made as far as possible for “flat-track bullying” exploits by cavalier batsmen, also aren’t exactly renowned as Test-type crumblers.
For longer-term personal and Proteas-linked benefits, Markram taking on the more patience-requiring challenges of English spring conditions is a heartening development.
His opening partner for South Africa, remember, Dean Elgar, has represented several counties over the past few years and, like Markram, will have an early-season chunk of the campaign with Surrey (he last played for the Oval-based side in 2015).
The gritty, more established left-hander and wonderful foil for Markram at the top of the SA order would almost certainly admit, if he hasn’t done so publicly already, that playing regularly in England has benefited his game in a profound way.
Markram, at least for the four Championship matches he plays in, will be a comforting replacement for another South African-born opening batsman in Keaton Jennings, the England-capped son of former Proteas coach Ray – he has shifted from Durham to Lancashire this year.
Centurion-born Markram does have some prior experience of cricket in England: he was the particularly fresh-faced overseas “pro” at Bolton League club Walkden in 2016, although that is obviously a few notches down from the level of competition about to face him.
He was also captain of South Africa ‘A’ last year when they played a once-off unofficial Test against England Lions at Canterbury in UK mid-season.
The tourists were humbled by 257 runs, although Markram, in a taste of things soon to come at the next tier up, did make 71 himself in the SA team’s first innings.
Now boasting exactly 1,000 runs from 10 Tests at 55.55, including four centuries, here are the four Championship matches Markram is scheduled to play for Durham:
April 20-23: v Kent, Chester-le-Street
April 27-30: v Northamptonshire, Northampton
May 4-7: v Leicestershire, Chester-le-Street
May 11-14: v Derbyshire, Derby
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