Playing for Punjab Kings in the second half of the Indian Premier League 2021, Aiden Markram didn’t bat higher than No. 4 and twice came in at No. 5. The South African batter prefers batting higher up the order and his record at international level suggests the same. In T20Is, the 27-year-old has a strike rate of 171.30 as an opener and 131.61 at Nos. 3 and 4. However, he still believes that his stint with Punjab will help him in the forthcoming T20 World Cup in the UAE and Oman.
“I'm not sure if it has or hasn't, but it was a great experience. I was in a less familiar role and it was nice to be exposed to that at a high standard of cricket, and to learn on the job. To mingle with some seriously good players who do the IPL circuit post-game, chatting to guys who have done well, legends of T20 cricket, was good. It was nice to get some information from them and also to work things out for yourself in the middle of a game,” said Markram.
Punjab lost some close encounters in the second half and eventually finished at No. 6 on the points table. They could win only six of their 14 encounters.
"In T20 cricket, at a World Cup or domestic or international series, results come down to the last three overs if not the last ball. It was good to be exposed to that, because I'm sure games are going to go to the wire at the World Cup. It's about dealing with that pressure in the moment when two to three balls could change the whole outcome of the game."
South Africa have won only one ICC tournament at senior level - 1998 International Cup in Bangladesh, which has evolved into the Champions Trophy. However, Markram did lead South Africa to the Under-19 title in 2014. Comparing his feat at Under-19 level to senior level, he said: “ The pressure is a lot more.
“The World Cup is a high-pressure environment, and under all that pressure you need to put performances together as individuals to help the team win. At Under-19 level, there's not too much of that. At the time there wasn't too much media exposure. There was a lot less pressure on the players to bring a trophy home. You experience the same type of things but everything's a lot more exaggerated at a big World Cup."
In their last 50-over World Cup in England in 2019, South Africa won only three of their eight games. “We haven't had too many chats about that World Cup. When conditions didn't suit our plans, we almost didn't have other plans to fall back on. That's been addressed, and we've got a way of cricket we'd like to play against each team. But if conditions on the day don't allow for that we have to be smarter and have another plan to fall back on. Having the skill set to trust in that change of plan has been important. Over the last 12 to 18 months the team have up-skilled themselves. That's probably the biggest thing we can take from the 2019 World Cup.
“We're not bringing too much baggage into this World Cup. Everyone here is pretty free-spirited and not too fazed about being at a World Cup, in a good way. Everyone's very calm so far. Obviously we'll try not to make the same mistakes that we did in 2019, but this is a different format and completely different conditions, and we've got a completely different side."
It was in the UAE where Markram and Co. won the Under-19 World Cup. Talking about the surfaces, Markram said: “I thought it would be quite generic but each ground had its own set of challenges," Markram said, on the basis of his IPL experience. "The pitches weren't the easiest to bat on, but as the batter gets in he can still take the game away from the opposition. It's tougher for newer batters coming in.
"Sharjah was probably the toughest batting wicket out of the three here, and Abu Dhabi was probably the nicest to bat on. Taking pace off the ball has been a go-to, and bowling the spinners at the right time is a really attacking move. But if you bowl them at the wrong time it can backfire."