CAPE TOWN – The shadows were lengthening over Table Mountain. The first day of cricket’s glorious return in South Africa was drawing to a close.
Only four overs remained in the day. The Cape Cobras had sneaked in a declaration leaving Aiden Markram and Dean Elgar to negotiate an awkward little period.
For Elgar this was routine. Part of the job. It was a lot more complex for Markram. This was going to be a trial by spin on a Newlands surface that bore greater resemblance to Calcutta than Cape Town.
Walking down the deserted Members Pavilion steps and preparing to take a guard for the first time in eight months, the former boy wonder would undoubtedly have had flashes of Galle, Colombo, Visakhapatnam and Pune tearing through his head. How was Markram going to approach the task? Would he defend? Would he attack? All of this has proved suicidal in the past.
When the mind is this scrambled often the unthinkable occurs. And that’s exactly what occurred. With only seven balls remaining before the regal Marais Erasmus would call time, Markram pushed back and attempted to set off for a run only to hear Cobras wicket-keeper Kyle Verreynne shriek with delight. A despairing sight awaited Markram when he turned his broad shoulders. The bails were laying on the dusty surface due to his heel disturbing the timber. Markram’s anguish was palpable.
Right here was Markram’s actual test though. Previously in Pune he had failed horribly when he smashed his hand into a changeroom wall. Would the Newlands visitors’ sheds suffer similar vandalism?
Fortunately the lockdown period was not just an excuse for everyone to practise their Jerusalema dance moves and binge on Netflix series. For many it was a period of introspection. Markram certainly used the time to reset the dial.
“Lockdown gave me the chance to sit back and look at what worked in the past for me, and the people that helped me. It was a blessing in disguise. I think when you’re playing a lot of cricket and you’re on the road, a lot of things happen very quickly, and without you noticing, you’ve gone through a few bad months in your career. It was nice to get the mind right and get all the rubbish out of the mind and get back to doing what you need to do to do well for whichever team you’re playing for,” the 26-year-old told IOL Sport.
“I’m still convinced that any cricketer goes through challenges in their career. Mine was bad form, a couple of injuries, some self-inflicted. It was a tough two months. What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. But it has been good to get through it and get the body healthy and strong again.”
At the second time of asking Markram enjoyed a much more satisfying stay at the crease. He contributed 48 (79 balls, 5×4, 1×6) in a 105-run opening partnership with Elgar that set the Titans on the path to chasing down an impressive 315 for victory.
It wasn’t enough though to convince new convener of selectors Victor Mpitsang that he was ready for a recall to international cricket when the Proteas ODI and T20 squads for the England series were announced on Friday.
The more realistic goal now is to be reunited with Elgar for the Test series against Sri Lanka, starting on Boxing Day on his home patch SuperSport Park. For that to play out Markram knows there is plenty of hard graft ahead, especially after a few frank discussions with the prospective Test captain.
“Dean will always tell you the honest truth. He’s made me hungry and told me to work hard in order to get back into the team. He is pushing me hard, which is great because I tend to respond quite well when he guides me. It is a relationship that I value a lot,” he said.
“We have come a long way. I love batting with him. I wish people had the opportunity to see how he went about his business this week. It was a treat to watch. The value he adds in the field, with bat in hand, and more importantly his composure and experience is great.
“I feel like I’m in a space where I need to get myself back into the side whether it’s white ball or red ball [cricket]. It’s a place that I enjoy being in, it helps you appreciate what you’ve been through and wanting to have that again. That’s the sort of space I’m in mentally right now. I’m not banking nor expecting any selections. It ultimately comes down to me scoring runs and adding value wherever I can on the field,” he added.