Rested, clear-headed Markram hungry and ready to pounce

Aiden Markram (Getty)
Aiden Markram (Getty)

Cape Town - When Aiden Markram punched a large, wooden door in a Pune changeroom on October 13, fracturing two bones in his hand, it was a case of months of frustration manifesting. 

Given out LBW for 0 to complete a pair of ducks in the second Test against India, Markram lost it when replays revealed that the ball from Ishant Sharma was in fact missing the stumps. 

The root of that frustration, however, goes back some time before that. 

Markram was a part of the 15-man squad that travelled to the 2019 World Cup in England where the Proteas finished a woeful seventh and barely put up a fight. 

He played in eight of South Africa's nine matches but couldn't put together an innings of match-winning substance despite having looked in superb touch on more than one occasion. 

Markram eventually finished the tournament with 140 runs at an average of 23.3, nowhere near the high standards he sets for himself or the expectation that has accompanied him ever since he started his international career. 

Scores of 5, 39, 0 and 0 then followed in India as the Proteas were comprehensively outplayed in every department and in every Test to go down 3-0. 

Markram, because of his hand fracture, flew home and missed the third Test. 

It was an action uncharacteristic of a man who is soft-spoken, thoughtful and considered a potential leader of the future. 

"I'm pretty sure it's going to be fine," he told Sport24 on Thursday when asked if he would be ready to play against England on his stomping ground at Centurion this Boxing Day. 

"The hardest part is watching cricket that I know I could potentially be playing. You always want to be out on the park and playing, so that's frustrating."

The cricket Markram is missing comes in the form of the ongoing Mzansi Super League, where the country's best are trading blows in a T20 hit-out that is surely not the smartest preparation for what promises to be a brutal Tests series against Joe Root's England. 

But while the likes of Faf du Plessis, Quinton de Kock, Dean Elgar and Temba Bavuma are on their T20 bicycles, Markram is nestled up at home with his hand in a brace and an awful lot to ponder. 

"It's been quite nice to be able to switch off for a little bit. It's been quite a while since I've had a break," he said. 

"By no means did I plan for it to be like this, but sometimes things work themselves out and it's been nice to reflect over the last few weeks.

"The time off has given the mind a bit of a rest. We've played a lot of cricket and didn't do as well as we would have liked. Mentally, that takes its toll.

"There is a lot of frustration that builds and it leads to people doing silly things like I did, unfortunately."

The mental component of Markram's game is massive and he acknowledges that "things tend to go alright" when he is in a good space. 

"The biggest part has been the clarity of mind," he said of his time away from the game.

"I've built a lot of fire in the belly, so I'm very eager to get back to training and to score some runs again."

With five straight Test losses in 2019 and with Hashim Amla and AB de Villiers no longer, the Proteas are crying out for big run-scorers at the top of their order against England.

Cricket South Africa and its leadership is currently surrounded by uncertainty and with the national side struggling on the field, this summer represents an opportunity for the Proteas to restore a belief that they remain one of the game's global powerhouses.

"That's one of the main aims going forward," Markram said.

"We hear and see everything that the public says and, understandably, we've got fans that are frustrated.

"Our main aim is to do the right things on the field and get cricket lovers having a bit of faith in us. It's going to take good performances ... that's the only way we can get people talking about us in the right way again.

"Everyone needs to pull in one direction. We all know about the challenges we are facing, but we're not going to use that as an excuse and all we can do is pull in the right direction together as a unit."

Regardless of what is happening at a boardroom level, cricket in South Africa needs a good news story desperately and success in a full home series against the world champions would go a long way.

"We will have that little bit of confidence because we absolutely love playing cricket at home, wherever we play," said Markram.

"We're hungry to put performances in and start winning games again."

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