Markram's loud 'both formats' reminder
Cape Town - South Africa's brains trust might be said to have got it both right and wrong this week when it comes to Aiden Markram and the issue of his dual involvement across the Test and one-day international formats.
On Friday the young, strongly-built right-hander was the clear leading light at the crease on a dramatic, violently fortune-swaying first day of the third Test against Pakistan at the Wanderers.
At least partially, you were inclined to suspect, smarting through his omission from the ODI squad revealed only a day earlier by Linda Zondi's national selection panel for the earliest part of the five-match 50-overs combat against the same tourists, Markram sizzled his way to one of the finest near-centuries you will see in the more extended format.
In lashing 90 off only 124 balls at a strike rate of 72.58 - with 16 fours, accounting for a Bullring crowd-pleasing 71 percent in boundaries - the 24-year-old dished out a defiant message that he isn't too enamoured with the possibility of missing out on the 2019 World Cup in the United Kingdom.
So in that respect, there is a case for lauding Zondi and company for triggering the sort of urgency-laden, immediate response witnessed from the player, even if it was engineered in his Test whites.
You might also add, in their further defence, that the Markram-less squad named on Thursday was only for the first two ODIs, and with an on-record comment from the convenor that he, Farhaan Behardien and Chris Morris were "by no means out of the picture" for involvement at the slightly longer business end of the series.
The trio had all been part of the SA squad who earned a pleasing 2-1 away triumph over Australia a few weeks ago.
During that scrap with the old enemy, Markram had a little frustratingly continued a personal trend for getting out when promisingly set, something reflected in his series scores of 36 (Perth), 19 (Adelaide) and 32 (Hobart).
Certainly he is yet to catch fire in the fullest sense in ODIs, with a personal best of 66 from 16 innings and an average of 25 that does little to scream "match-winner".
But there's also that thing they call the rub of the green ... and it hasn’t always been kind to Markram at either of the major international levels, even with his Test stats looking rosy (average nearly 47) for someone sporting only 15 appearances at this point and with reams of potential for enhanced street wisdom.
That includes Friday, when he looked so dead set on posting a fifth Test century before one of those fatal leg-side feathers that can come right out of the blue and not be put down to any special technical shortcomings.
Ahead of his cruel dismissal, he had looked pretty close to indestructible, and the central figure in the "first two-thirds" part of the day consummately dominated by the Proteas ahead of an inexplicable collapse to 262 all out in the eventful post-tea session.
Some of his cover driving had a Barry Richards and Jacques Kallis-like authority and majesty, while his pulling, and caressing behind square on the off-side, wasn't notably less eye-catching.
A level-headed fellow, something likely to have been aided by his experience of captaincy at various levels, Markram isn't likely to be bothered by some murmurs from the SuperSport commentary booth during day-one play that he may be developing into some kind of "new Michael Slater" for a penchant for Test dismissals in the mentally-challenging nineties.
He has as many as three now ... but also the not inconsequential matter of four tons, including three being of the 140-plus variety which must be regarded as positive signs of stamina and durability.
Markram has had his difficulties along the route thus far, as innumerable emerging top-flight players do, yet Friday's innings also made crystal clear to those not yet in the know that he has qualities - especially those related to natural, instinctive aggression - that put him in an elite league as a general cricketing package and prospect.
It was also, in all truth, a display bringing into sharp scrutiny the decision to ditch him, even if it does prove extremely short-lived, from the more abbreviated version of South Africa's international plans.
The Centurion-born customer has been overwhelmingly pigeon-holed so far as a top-three player in the ODI order, and there is a good case for saying it is largely where he should remain despite his under-delivery in numbers terms.
But Markram so muscled the Pakistani attack on Friday, sometimes with almost cavalier glee, that it should even have triggered the possibility that he could be engaged productively in a middle-order and/or finishing capacity for the country in the 50-overs arena if need be; those areas can't be said to be irreversibly settled.
The long and the short of it?
Aiden Markram seems wasted in, currently, just the Proteas' Test set-up.
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