Tuesday, October 8, 2019

Can the real Aiden Markram please stand up?

Some players are earmarked for greatness from a young age. For whatever reason, the powers-that-be in a given cricket association decide that player is unique, an outlier, and as such must be given every possible chance to succeed. One can see this internationally with Mitchell Marsh, who despite being a middling bowler and statistically the worst number six batsman of all time, is not only a regular in the Australian side, but was even made vice-captain a year ago. He was then dropped soon after because, surprisingly, being made captain did not improve his poor batting.

While not quite as historically poor as Mitchell Marsh, Aiden Markram has had a similar career trajectory, being promoted to roles he might not have been ready for because he was a prodigious talent. Lest we forget that he was promoted to ODI captain in Faf du Plessis' absence for the ODI series vs India, despite having played a grand total of one(!) One day Internationals up to that point. This is not to say Aiden Markram cannot play. Or even lead. He is the only winner of an ICC World Cup in South Africa's history, having clinched the 2014 World Cup. And he does have a brilliant series vs Australia on his ledger, as well as boasting a Test average over 40, which is damn good for an opener. But while numbers reveal everything, they also lie. Damned lies and statistics, as the phrase goes.

When Heino Kuhn was selected to the 2017 England tour instead of Aiden Markram, there was a feeling that Cricket South Africa wanted to give Markram a soft landing spot for him to start his international cricket sojourn from. Indeed, while Kuhn was asked to prove he was Test-ready facing a steady diet of out-swingers from James Anderson and Stuart Broad, statistically, the most successful new ball pairing of all time; Markram was given a softer diet of medium pace bowling by Bangladesh. In his first three Tests, Markram averaged 95, with 380 runs. Talk about a launching pad. In the 15 tests since then, he averages 35. Which is acceptable, but not particularly encouraging. More concerning though, if you take his record since the end of last year's home Tests, he averages 26.8. the car isn't quite going backwards, but it definitely is sputtering.

The suggestion is not to drop Aiden Markram. Easy opponents or not, 25-year old openers averaging over in Test cricket are pretty rare. He is clearly a talent. But it would be a flat out lie to suggest that his rise wasn't carefully curated by Cricket South Africa with the express intention of making him a superstar. There's nothing wrong with that. Many an international star was eased into the fire. It can work. But with South Africa down a Test in the series, and Markram averaging a wholly unimpressive 14 in the subcontinent... It would be great for him to show some intestinal fortitude in the face of incredibly difficult circumstances.

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