Will Aiden Markram’s start-stop Test career finally take off?

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22 Dec 2021 | 03:16 PM
authorAnirudh Suresh

Will Aiden Markram’s start-stop Test career finally take off?

Three years ago he was a rookie who could do no wrong, but now Markram has plenty of war wounds

Legend has it that Aiden Markram was struck by the ultimate curse of all, the Virat Kohli curse. Google ‘Virat Kohli curse’, you’ll find out everything you need to know. 

In March 2018, twice in the span of a week, Kohli, who rarely takes to social media to praise non-Indian cricketers, posted tweets where he pretty much was publicly fan-boying for Markram. Long story short, Markram’s Test career went downhill after those tweets: he averaged 29.42 across the next 16 Tests, scoring a solitary ton. From run-machine to meme machine. 

Was the ‘Kohli curse’ to blame for it? Maybe. Maybe not. Putting that stupendous theory aside though, it’s worth reflecting on the actual significance of those tweets. 

There you had the best cricketer in the world who rarely does anything non-PR on social media, absolutely losing it over a 24-year-old who had barely played a dozen Tests. Why? Because Aiden Markram was just that good. THAT. GOOD.

Kohli’s tweets came on the back of the 84 and 152 Markram scored against Australia - both match-winning knocks - in the infamous ball-tampering saga series. 

Those were just Markram’s 17th and 18th innings in Test cricket respectively, but by that point this stirringly flamboyant youngster had scored 1000 Test runs, had an average of 55 and a strike rate of 64 and had racked up 4 tons to go along with two 90+ scores. In the eyes of some, his batting was reminiscent of a young KP. In every way.

So not only did this kid have the world at his feet, literally, he had the best and the most influential cricketer in the world cheering him on passionately. Really, it cannot get better and bigger than this.

Maybe it’s this hype that got to him, after all.  

Because in the next 18 months, Markram’s career nearly fell apart. 

A tour in which he averaged 10.00, a tour in which he averaged 11.00 and no tons in 12 Tests after having notched up four in the first ten. And, to cap it all off, a mid-series fractured wrist due to punching a ‘solid object’ that not just made him a laughing stock in the entire cricketing world but, worse, miss the start of South Africa’s home summer. 

As big a fall from grace as there can be.

Three years on, the ex-golden-boy-of-South-African-cricket will enter the forthcoming series against India needing to prove that he still, in the longest format, is the same batter that the world once couldn’t stop raving about. The batter who outscored du Plessis, de Villiers and Amla on a Centurion wicket that tested every single facet of batting. 

Certainly, he showed earlier this year in Pakistan that the Markram of 2018 is very much alive. 

His past, hideous record in the subcontinent - average of 10.5 from 8 innings - made many question his selection, and on the very first day of the series the anti-Markram brigade’s cries seemed justified when he, in typical Markram fashion, on a flat wicket, threw his hands at a wide one to perish for 13. It was a dismissal that was borderline unjustifiable. 

But across the next three innings in the series, the Markram that was on display was the closest he’d been in three years to the version Kohli was going gaga over. 

Grit, fight and doughtiness made a resurgent return as he faced a staggering 175 balls per innings (avg) in the rest of the series, and also in the process accumulated 227 runs to finish as the highest run-getter in the series. A fourth-innings ton in Rawalpindi even gave the Proteas, at one point, a realistic hope of chasing down 370.  

The Pakistan series was evidence enough to make clear the fact that somewhere within Markram, there exists a world-class red-ball batter that can play otherworldly knocks at will. The question that still remains, however, which went unanswered during the West Indies tour where bad habits resurfaced, is if he can summon this version often enough, sustain it and catapult his Test career that has regrettably stalled. 

What will be interesting to see is if Markram will be emboldened by the success he attained in the T20 World Cup, and in T20I cricket as a whole.

Up until this year, Markram, all through his career was majorly a one-format player, and even when he was a part of the ODI and Test sides concurrently, he enjoyed little to no success in the 50-over format. This meant that when he was going through a rut in Test cricket, he simply had no other international performances to fall back on or thrive off.

For the first time in his Test career now, however, Markram will enter a series knowing that he is not just an established player in another format, but one of the mainstays. For a player who feeds off confidence, such a lead-up could just turn out to be the driving force behind a second-coming in Test cricket that is long overdue.

Or maybe, just maybe, there is an even bigger incentive.

Maybe someone should tell Markram that the only way to get out of the Kohli curse is by slaying the man’s team with the willow in hand. 

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South Africa vs IndiaIndia tour of South Africa, 2021/22IndiaSouth AfricaVirat KohliAiden Markram

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