Touch of ‘AB’ about Ai­den

Pure shot-mak­ing a de­light, rookie Hamza, De Bruyn solid, then Proteas col­lapse

Saturday Star - - SPORT - STUART HESS [email protected]

THE FU­TURE of the Proteas’ Test bat­ting set-up flick­ered here yes­ter­day.

The first two ses­sions would have warmed the hearts of those whom Cricket South Africa en­trusts with sus­tain­ing the sports’ de­vel­op­ment. The pipe­line they call it, and on so­cial me­dia the say it’s al­ways pump­ing.

There has been more talk about the fu­ture the past cou­ple of sea­sons as Morné Morkel and AB de Vil­liers, two play­ers so essen­tial to South Africa’s suc­cess in the lat­ter stages of the pre­vi­ous decade, re­tired. Hashim Amla, Dale Steyn and Faf du Plessis are also closer to the end of their ca­reers than the be­gin­ning. So what does the fu­ture hold?

There’s quite a bit to be op­ti­mistic about based on yes­ter­day’s play. Al­though, as the last ses­sion showed, there’s still a lot the new brigade need to learn.

To the first two ses­sions though and the work of Ai­den Markram. De Vil­liers’ re­tire­ment has left many won­der­ing about the en­ter­tain­ment as­pect for the Proteas. As ef­fec­tive as De Vil­liers was in his 114-match Test ca­reer, in which he av­er­aged over 50, it was the en­ter­tain­ment he pro­vided with the bat that made him such a star of the game.

No one wants to bur­den Markram with a tag of the ‘next AB’ – he lacks De Vil­liers’ shot-mak­ing va­ri­ety for one thing – but such is the pu­rity of his shot-mak­ing, and at this stage of his ca­reer, es­pe­cially his driv­ing, that he re­ally is the type of player who can put bums on seats and draw eyes to TV screens.

Dropped by Shan Ma­sood at short leg on two, Markram took ad­van­tage of the op­por­tu­nity to pro­duce an en­thralling ex­hi­bi­tion of driv­ing; be­hind square on the off-side, through the cov­ers (both left and right of ex­tra cover), straight through mid-on and mid-off. When Pak­istan sought to ex­am­ine him against the short ball, he pulled with au­thor­ity. But other parts of his game worked strongly too – his de­fence, both on front and back foot – and he left well too. He also ran smartly be­tween the wick­ets.

It was an in­nings of the high­est qual­ity and it helped the home team con­trol the game in those first two ses­sions. Markram is 24 years old, this is his 14th Test.

The­u­nis de Bruyn is 26, play­ing in his ninth Test and strode to the wicket, un­der enor­mous pres­sure fol­low­ing a se­ries in which he has strug­gled to cope with skill of the Pak­istan bowlers on some difficult pitches for bat­ting. The pres­sure he felt led to mis­takes in both in­nings in Cape Town. He wasn’t ex­actly play­ing for his place here, but had he not made runs, the crit­i­cism there’s been be­fore this match would have grown louder.

He scored 49 in just un­der two hours of bat­ting, looked solid do­ing so, after a ner­vous start. The irony was lost on no one that most of those runs were scored in the com­pany of the bloke many feel should get his spot in the side, Zubayr Hamza, pic­tured.

The 23-year-old, who is mak­ing his de­but here be­cause the ICC sus­pended Faf du Plessis for not en­sur­ing his bowlers got through their overs quicker at New­lands, played as if he be­longed.

He hid his nerves well. He blocked his first cou­ple of de­liv­er­ies from the leg-spin­ner Shadab Khan, blocked a cou­ple more straight ones from the dan­ger­ous Mo­ham­mad Amir and left a few wide tempters from the left-arm quick. His first run came with a push into the off-side at the start of Amir’s next over; two balls later he had his first Test bound­ary, three balls after that his first six.

Pak­istan’s bowl­ing in that hour be­fore tea was poor and for a debu­tant and an­other player out of form it was just what was needed to ease the pres­sure.

But then came a real test for them after tea. The Pak­ista­nis were prob­a­bly given a rol­lick­ing by coach Arthur and skip­per Sar­fraz at the break, and in the next hour the mo­men­tum switched. Sud­denly the ball was re­vers­ing from Amir and Ab­bas.

The au­thor­ity with which Hamza and De Bruyn had played in com­pil­ing a fourth wicket stand of 75 dis­ap­peared. It was Pak­istan who puffed out their chests. The young­sters got fraz­zled, South Africa col­lapsed los­ing seven wick­ets for 32 runs in 17.2 overs after tea.

They had threat­ened to burn brightly on this first day, in­stead they only flick­ered. One in­nings of 90, an­other of 49 and a third of 41. Suc­cumb­ing to the pres­sure wasn’t pretty. But they are lessons that must be learned if they are to thrive in the fu­ture.

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