AB blow: Bigger focus on Markram, Bavuma

Temba Bavuma (Gallo)
Temba Bavuma (Gallo)

Cape Town - Aiden Markram and Temba Bavuma, in varying ways, seem the likeliest beneficiaries of the startling decision by Proteas batting kingpin AB de Villiers to retire from all international cricket.

Both are already reasonably firmly embedded in South Africa’s general plans, but there is an opportunity now for Bavuma to certainly feel a bit more settled in the Test side, and for budding five-day star Markram to earn significantly more regular recognition on the one-day international front, where he currently sports only seven caps.

De Villiers, who announced his immediate departure from Proteas activity after some 13 largely illustrious years on Wednesday, naturally leaves a gaping hole in both the Test and ODI combinations, considering his 50-plus averages in both and dazzling qualities as an undoubted match-winner.

But head coach Ottis Gibson and his lieutenants have to start work as quickly as possible on plugging the two holes.

The first assignments on the road ahead are against Sri Lanka on an all-formats tour there from early July.

As far as the Test team is concerned, the diminutive, tenacious Bavuma – certainly approaching De Villiers for electric fielding qualities, at least – has reason to breathe a little easier right now.

That is because he has tended to be the player most at peril when the Proteas have taken the decision, from time to time and depending on circumstance, to curb their specialist batting to six, rather than seven, representatives.

In performance terms, the just turned 28-year-old has usually been the most vulnerable when South Africa have had to make a cull of one from these seven: Markram, Dean Elgar, Hashim Amla, De Villiers, Faf du Plessis, Bavuma and wicketkeeper Quinton de Kock.

With De Villiers vacating, the “six only” formula becomes substantially more straightforward, as Bavuma would now look a lot safer.

Many would argue that it is only fair anyway, as he has often enough shown both the technical and temperamental qualities required of a Test batsman, even as his numbers – average just below 35 after 29 appearances – stay open to critical scrutiny.

Exactly where to field him in the order is an ongoing issue, as directly installing him in De Villiers’ high-pressure, blue-chip No 4 slot might be asking a bit much.

But he remains an attractive enough prospect for either No 5 (maybe seasoned incumbent and captain Faf de Plessis would agree to shift up a slot) or six.

It is from the latter position that he excelled in the closing, series-deciding Test against Australia at the Wanderers recently, striking 95 and 35 without being dismissed – they certainly looked promising signs of an upward trajectory, especially if a sense of stability is offered to him for several months at least.

Psst, we mustn’t overlook Bavuma’s candidacy for further ODI honours: in two games, admittedly against relative minnows, he has struck 113 against Ireland and 48 against Bangladesh, both times as a stand-in opener but possibly also with credentials elsewhere in the order.

Assuming that a seven-batsmen brew is wished to be retained in the Test side, the next stroke-player officially in the current pecking order is Theunis de Bruyn, as the Knights representative was part of the extended squad for the Aussie series and did get to play two Tests – albeit with modest success.

The 25-year-old has been a bit “in and out” (five sporadic Tests, average 14.44) and might also be desirous of a solid run in the side to properly confirm his credentials.

But uncertainty over De Bruyn may linger, especially as batsman/wicketkeeper Heinrich Klaasen was also added to the broader Test squad against the Aussies, although he remains uncapped in that format.

Klaasen, however, showed good skill and body language as one of few shining lights at the crease for South Africa in four appearances during the badly-surrendered ODI series against India in February.

Though not in the De Villiers league – who is? – he is a sound striker of the ball, and with a first-class average of 45, he may also be a dark horse for the Test plans.

For the moment, he undoubtedly warrants staying a part of the ODI fabric … but in that landscape perhaps the bigger beneficiary of De Villiers’s quitting at this juncture will be Markram?

The fresh-faced Titans star, 23, is already very nicely bedded indeed into the Test XI, with four centuries and a swollen average of 55 from 10 matches - plus laurels from many of the world’s top pundits for his abundant qualities.

Less solid is his grip on a 50-overs berth, especially after he was debatably made acting captain of South Africa (there were several injured customers) in the problematic series against India and the dual responsibilities may have affected his delivery: top personal score of 32 in the six-game series, where he mostly opened.

The Amla-De Kock alliance, of course, is firmly rooted at the top of the ODI order when both are fit, but Markram remains a credible candidate, you would think, for a spot somewhere in the top five … and that could just become a ticket for him now that De Villiers has cleared the way.

He boasts certain power-hitting attributes of his own, is an eager-learning cricketer clearly on the up, and every now and then has shown an ability to “go ballistic” in the limited-overs arena.

Remember that domestic-record, 183-run blitzkrieg, off 138 balls, a couple of seasons back for the Titans in a derby against the Highveld Lions?

It was at least a sign that Markram may just blossom in the ODI landscape to roughly the same extent he already has in Test matches …

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

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