How Ray Jennings opened the door for Aiden Markram
Who do South African cricket fans have to thank for the happy fact that Aiden Markram has rocketed up the list of viable opening options?
Ray Jennings‚ who told the young batsman before the 2014 under-19 World Cup: "Your only outside chance of making the side is to open the batting."
At least‚ that is how Markram remembers his conversation with his then coach.
Markram batted at the top of the order at primary school‚ but at high school he was more often deployed at No3 or 4.
Clearly Jennings knew what he was on about — which did not stop Cricket SA from dumping him as under-19 coach less than eight weeks after he returned with the only World Cup trophy SA have won.
Markram‚ who captained SA‚ was their highest runscorer‚ the third-highest overall and the only South African in the top 10.
"It worked out well‚" he said with the kind of understatement that is going to make reporters groan after he makes his debut at senior international level.
That could happen in the coming months on SA’s tour of England should Markram be preferred to Stephen Cook‚ who was dropped during the recent Test series in New Zealand.
Unusually in the modern game‚ Markram bats up front in all three formats for the Titans.
That must mean he relishes a role others tend to approach like soldiers consigned to a month in a muddy trench.
Did he enjoy opening the batting? "Yes‚ of course‚" he said‚ seemingly surprised at the question. "It’s a great challenge and being a young guy in franchise cricket you have to be on top of your game to deal with that kind of pressure."
Besides‚ he said‚ it was better than sitting around padded up and waiting.
"I tell you what‚ that’s quite a difficult thing to do."
Talking about pressure‚ another of Markram’s selling points is that‚ at 22‚ he already knows what it feels like to be in the pressure cooker of must-win games — and to win them.
"The under-19 World Cup taught us a hell of a lot‚" he said.
"It helps you mature quickly and to understand your game and to take responsibility‚ especially being captain."
Markram is‚ of course‚ still making his way in life and in the game‚ and to that end he will attend a spin camp in India in the first week of May and is then due to return to Walkden in the Bolton league in England.
In 2016 Markram was second in the league averages among players who had had at least 10 innings‚ and second among the runscorers.
Easily as valuable as the on-field experience he gained was what he learnt on the other side of the boundary.
"You learn how to live on your own‚" he said. "There’s no family to help you and you find out how to make things work and grow as a whole person."
Should his phone ring with a call from a certain Linda Zondi‚ SA’s selection convener‚ that part of his education will be put on hold.