Up until the 2018 season, Punjab Kings' (then Kings XI Punjab) planning was not the best in the tournament. Very often, they would pick players that did not go hand-in-hand with their team combinations. However, in the last two years, the franchise has made some cut-throat decisions, including the purchase of Dawid Malan, the No.1 T20I batsman.
Despite the aurora around him, the English southpaw only managed to get one game in the Punjab colours, ending up with 26 runs in the tournament. While the team management surely would have centered their plans around the Englishman, his decision to withdraw from the tournament put them in a spot of bother.
Not only did they have to find a consistent batter in the shortest format but they had to filter through the list pretty instantaneously. And then, they shortlisted Aiden Markram as the perfect fit for the remainder of the competition.
How did the 26-year-old force himself onto the mainstream T20 league, having played just the Mzansi Super League for the Paarl Rocks?
Consistency and brute force
For long, Aiden Markram’s legacy has been built around his success at the age-group level, including winning the 2014 U-19 World Cup. Ever since he made the jump with the big boys, his numbers and reputation were consistently taking a hit. Having made his T20I debut in 2019, 18 runs and two games – was all he could manage before being axed. So where did he make the comeback?
10 April 2021, the venue is Johannesburg. Markram walked out to open the innings with Janneman Malan. While he not only ended top-scoring for the Proteas, with 51 runs, he never looked back after that innings.
In the 11 T20Is this year, the right-handed batsman has scored 408 runs, averaging 40.80 while striking it at 150. Only three players – Mohammad Rizwan, Babar Azam and Mitchell Marsh – have scored more runs than Markram in T20Is this year. During the same time, he also scored three consecutive half-centuries, making the Proteas batsman among the most consistent players in the world.
After the first eight fixtures of the season, the Punjab Kings had endured the worst record in the powerplay, with their run-rate standing at just 6.9, showcasing how their batting was one-dimensional. With the South African, Punjab not only get a batsman who could fit into the top four, with an innate ability to hit spin but also gets a player who could work as a real dasher, which would only uplift their scoring rate.
Markram’s strike-rate, at 150 is the best amongst the top five T20I batters this year. While not only being consistent (27.2 balls per dismissal), the right-hander strikes a boundary every 5.1 deliveries, the best for top five highest run-scorer in the shortest format this year.
In addition, the 26-year-old has a boundary percentage of 19.4, striking a six every 15.1 delivery. 19.4% of his runs this year have come from boundaries, something that would come in handy for the Punjab Kings, with the franchise only scoring one boundary only every 7.5 deliveries, third-worst record in the league.
Against spin, the right-hander since 2019, averages 36.5 with a strike rate of 137.74, which increases to 38.6 and 147.33 on the international stage. In a nice contrast, the franchise had the worst strike-rate against spin (115.2) at 6.9 RPO, so having Markram in the setup would allow for the franchise to seamlessly fit him into the setup.
Multiple hats donned
With the franchise having two Windies left-handers for the middle-order – Chris Gayle and Nicholas Pooran, having Markram in the setup opens up many combinations. The franchise could push Mayank Agarwal to the middle-order, where he found success last season, putting Gayle back at top with Rahul.
Or, simply they could pair Markram at the top with Rahul, building their middle-order with Mayank and Gayle. If they don’t want to go with either of the two options, they would well be safe with Markram in the middle-order, with Nicholas Pooran, two of the best batters in the middle-overs phase.
While Markram might not be the best to get off to a pacy start, his strike-rate has shown massive improvement after the first ten deliveries, striking it at 164.37 from balls 11-20, which increases to 213.33 in the next ten deliveries. In the T20Is this year, the right-handed batter has only been dismissed two times during the first 20 balls that he faces in an innings, striking at 123.57, from 94.68 in the first 10 to 152.46 in the second 10.
The 26-year-old’s incredible rise in the shortest format has the whole world on its feet but he wasn’t done, quite yet. In the shortest format, the South African has picked up four wickets, including registering a career-best of 3/21 against Sri Lanka earlier this month, averaging just 20.50 with the ball.
With Punjab’s top-order being rigid, with no real bowling options apart from Chris Gayle, Markram’s inclusion could allow for KL Rahul to shuffle around with the bowlers. Markram only seems like an ideal marriage for Punjab, a franchise that in the past has suffered on the back of some indecisive signings. While the South African might not be a headliner like Malan, his performance alongside X-factor could well propel the side to ace the middle-overs.
(All stats are updated till September 14)