While the new-look South Africa took on India in the T20I series and rallied to draw the three-match affair, one of their best batsmen toiled in the ‘A’ tour not far away. Aiden Markram, 24, who averages around 44 in 17 Tests with four centuries and six fifties, began with twin failures in Thiruvananthapuram against India A in the first four-day match.
But he bounced back with a classy 161 at Mysuru to warm up for the Tests. He sounded a further warning to the Indian camp with a 118-ball 100* in South Africa’s only tour game against the Board President’s XI. In this interview, Markram speaks about his preparations, a South Africa without Hashim Amla and Dale Steyn and how he takes Virat Kohli’s praise. Excerpts:
How have your preparations for the Test series been?
Our preparations have gone well. We have been here for 3-4 weeks with the ‘A’ side and played two four-day games, which was nice to acclimatise to the conditions in India. The preparations have gone really well for us as a side. The guys seem in good spirits and full of energy, which is exciting.
How crucial are ‘A’ tours given international cricket is several notches higher?
I think ‘A’ sides are extremely important, as close as you can get to international cricket. You are often playing against internationals from different countries and it definitely bridges the gap between our domestic game and international cricket. The more ‘A’ side cricket that can be played, it will keep the fringe of international cricket interested. It also serves as a gauge for them as to how far off they are. It is really exciting and it tells you how close you are to international cricket.
What have you learnt from the pitches in Thiruvananthapuram and Mysuru?
The learning from those pitches was they were quite sporty on Day One, quite a bit of grass on them, and naturally they flattened out and became nice to bat on. There was a bit of turn but nothing too drastic. You can train as much as you want in the nets but the best form of preparation is out in the middle.
Your thoughts on facing spinners Kuldeep Yadav, Shahbaz Nadeem and Jalaj Saxena.
We faced a few spinners from the ‘A’ side and all of them were really good. A guy like Kuldeep has taken well to international cricket and all of them in their own right are quality spinners. It was nice to face them and see what they all are about. They all have a big future in cricket and it was helpful to gauge how much work we need to do.
How crucial was the century in the second ‘A’ match?
It is always nice to score centuries but at the end of the day the team needed big partnerships. Fortunately, Wiaan Mulder and myself (at Mysuru) were able to do that. Wiaan (21) played an exceptional knock for such a young guy and it was really encouraging for South African cricket. We were not sure what conditions we would be getting but we have an idea what is to come. By no means will it be easy, we will have to prepare really well to give ourselves the best chance to succeed.
Your record in Test cricket is promising. Will South Africa look up to you with Hashim Amla having retired?
Losing Hashim, from the batting perspective, and Dale is massive. They are legends you would never be able to replace. It is a lot like when Jacques Kallis and AB (de Villiers) retired. Ideally, the other batters would like to share the load now and play with a bit more responsibility in getting the team over the line.
It is an exciting period where South Africa cricket is going through a change in personnel. But by no means will anyone try and be a Hashim—he is one in a million.
How inspirational has Faf du Plessis been as a leader?
Faf has been the best leader I have been able to play under. He is always leading from the front and really tries to make the environment in the Proteas camp a better place to be in each and every day. I take a lot of learning from Faf, learn how he goes about things.
Kohli is a fan of your batting, he has also praised it.
The Virat Kohli story happened in the series back home a couple of years ago. Naturally, any batter in the world would look up to a guy like Virat. His records are unbelievable and as much as you can learn from a guy like him, it can only help you as a young player coming through. It is nice a guy of his calibre says some nice things about me. But at the end of the day, we’ll be competitors on the field. Off it, I’ll try and learn from him.