International Cricket

T20 World Cup 2024 – Aiden Markram ‘grateful’ for tough start as young captain

In early 2018, a shy young man with brooding demeanour was thrust into the South Africa captaincy as their senior players fell to injury like ten pins. Against a strong India side, they ended up losing the ODI series and later in the year the young batter who had made Virat Kohli go wow lost even briefly lost his place in the side.

Captaincy is not for everyone, we thought. Especially not for the kinds of Aiden Markram, who liked to keep to himself, didn’t seek limelight, and would much rather lead by example than words. We worried the experience might have damaged the player. It is strange that six years later, now having led his SA20 side to a title and leading South Africa into the T20 World Cup, Markram remembers that first tryst with captaincy as “fantastic” and not a chastening experience.

“No, never,” Markram said when asked if he ever regretted expecting captaincy so early in his career. “I’d never regret taking captaincy for your national team. At the moment it was obviously not the best series for us as a team, but if you look at it in hindsight, that’s why I’m grateful, because I was able to learn.

“It was fantastic to be honest. Completely unexpected, obviously, getting the captaincy then, but the learning that was able to take place from going through that experience of that series was great. Obviously at the time it was not ideal, having lost badly, but you look at it in hindsight and you almost become grateful for that. I learned quite a bit through that series and had some really awesome senior players guiding me while I was out there as well, which sort of helps you grow a lot as a captain and as a player.”

One of the biggest lessons he learnt then and there was to not let captaincy affect what got him into the side in the first place: batting. “Back then I was quite young, so [not] being able to tell the difference between being a batter and a captain. So, when you’re a batter, you’re just a batter for the team. You can’t captain in any way while you’re batting. So that was one massive learning.

“And then naturally dealing with stuff off the field in a more open-minded and calmer way. I think when you’re young, you can get defensive quite quickly. But you sort of realise that it comes with the territory. It comes with the responsibility of being a captain and taking that on board as best you can.”

When it does come to batting, Markram has repurposed himself into one of the rare commodities: a middle-order batter in limited-overs cricket who can bat according to the situation. His ability to hit hard lengths and high pace combined with Heinrich Klaasen’s demolition of spin is one of the reasons South Africa are one of the favourites at a World Cup yet again even though they have never won one in either format.

That, as usual, remains the hurdle to cross for South Africa, but Markram the captain is not treating that as extra pressure. “For the time being, we’re trying to achieve something we haven’t achieved before,” Markram said. “So, I don’t think that brings too much extra pressure. I think it brings a bit more excitement and energy to the team. But we’d love to get that first elusive one, of course. I believe that we have the team to do so. But I don’t think it adds too much more pressure. Guys are definitely really hungry to get that first one.”

These words are in keeping with how Markram is as a person. He is not going to set the agenda with tall promises or stern words. He won’t be the animated talker in the team huddle. He is not seeking to make a clean break from the past. He has not been at the forefront of the selection calls. He is just looking to keep the batting and the captaining separate.

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