Markram’s shrewd captaincy on point; lack of runs the only missing jigsaw

Markram has led the side with assuredness. PC – ICC

Aiden Markram was at the other end when Bradley Dial hit the winning runs to steer South Africa Under-19 to their maiden World Cup triumph. He received a warm hug from Markram, the side’s captain, and in a few seconds, the rest of the South African players had sprinted their way to the middle to celebrate the momentous occasion. The year of this sweet victory was 2014. Markram became the only South African cricket captain to lift a World Cup trophy. He still holds that distinction.

The statistic would merely say South Africa posted a convincing six-wicket victory. But there was more to it than just winning the final. For substantial parts of Pakistan’s innings, Markram had at least a couple of slips in place for the seamers. Even when Yaseen Vallie, the left-arm spinner, was introduced into the attack, Markram had a slip in place. His aggressive captaincy was rewarded as Pakistan were cleaned up for a lowly total. A decade later, Markram is on the cusp of something bigger – he has a chance of leading the South Africa senior team to their first-ever World Cup win.

The other day, South Africa once more scraped home in the ongoing 2024 T20 World Cup, defeating the West Indies in the Super 8s. And that wasn’t the first time South Africa pipped its opponent in a close game. Just goes to show that under Markram’s leadership, South Africa have gelled well as a unit.

In that encounter, Markram also showed some captaincy smarts on the field. In the first innings, in particular, the spinners were getting some purchase from the wicket. Markram aptly employed Tabriaz Shamsi and Keshav Maharaj right until the 16th over, as the spin duo ran through the West Indies batting unit. At that juncture, there were question marks over how he hadn’t given Kagiso Rabada, his pace-spearhead , a bowl. In the final analysis, it was the right call to introduce Rabada only in the slog overs.

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Team South Africa (Image: ICC)

In the England-South Africa match, he also had the fielders in the right place. Liam Livingstone, the power-hitter, has a penchant for smacking through the mid-wicket and via square leg/backward square leg regions. When he attempted one of those heaves across the line off Rabada, he was caught at deep backward square leg. Granted that the gusty wind probably played a role in Livingstone not collecting a six, but the South African camp were meticulous with their field placements.

Lest we forget Markram’s superman-like fielding efforts. He has already taken a couple of blinders against England and Bangladesh. As skipper, he could have taken up a relatively safe fielding position in the end overs versus Bangladesh. He didn’t, as he chose to field in the deep. And it was his stunning catch to dismiss Mahmudullah that paved the way for South Africa to edge out Bangladesh by a mere four runs. Such kind of fielding efforts will only energise the rest of the team.

Having showered praise on Markram, there is one important facet of the game where he has been lacking – his batting. Markram is averaging just over 13 and has compiled 100 in seven outings in this tournament. One of the main qualities of a captain is to lead from the front in your chosen discipline. Markram has failed to do that so far.

This is a golden opportunity for Markram and his men to end South Africa’s drought in World Cups. Markram leading from the front with a willow in hand will go a long way in helping the Proteas to add a World Cup trophy to their cabinet.

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