Markram sees a role for himself in T20 World Cup

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Aiden Markram won’t quite say it just yet, but despite the sticking point of the top hitters in the South African T20I squad, he is pretty sure of his place in Australia for the World Cup. And you’d think he should be.

Markram is third in the ICC’s T20I rankings for batting, averaging 42.60 in T20Is, scoring 146.55 and contributing with part-time offspin. But he played just one of eight South African T20Is this year, missed the series against India after contracting Covid-19 and sat on the bench for two of three games against England in favor of Heinrich Klaasen. So if he felt insecure, that would be understandable. Luckily for him, South Africa has a plan and it almost certainly includes him.

“The communication from the coach, the management team and the captain was very good. It makes it easier to understand why they are doing it (changing players). When you are heading for World Cups you want to choose your best squad and it is important to give guys fair chances before you select the team,” said Markram ahead of South Africa’s two-match T20I series against Ireland, which starts in Bristol on Wednesday.

While South Africa doesn’t have many games left to experiment for the T20 World Cup (their two against Ireland are followed by three in India just before the tournament), they have tinkered with the top order in the absence of captain Temba Bavuma. They started the England series and gave Klaasen a shot at number 4, but while he is able to hit the ball hard, Klaasen may have had his streak with scores of 20 and 19 against England. Markram replaced Klaasen for the third game and hit an unbeaten 51 in the deciding game.

Who will hit above Markram is still to be decided. Quinton de Kock will build a reputation, if not current form, and Reeza Hendricks has done everything asked of him to open the at bat with de Kock with three straight half-centuries against England. But if Bavuma is fit, that means Hendricks will be pushed out or pushed down, where Rilee Rossouw returned to the national lineup in the second game against England with an unbeaten 96. If Rossouw goes down, that will hinder Markram and possibly further to downstairs where David Miller and Tristan Stubbs form the middle order.

It’s a problem of abundance that South Africa may not be able to solve yet, apart from Markram, who sees a clear role for himself in that mix.

“Rilee, Tristan and Reeza are exciting for us as a team and create good competition for us as a team. For me it’s just about playing the situation. If they get us to a kite it’s about coming in and matching them And if not, it’s up to me to ramp up the intensity,” he said.

Mid-range energy is where the South African squad has seen the biggest change from the team they were a year or two ago. Instead of relying on one player to finish an innings – historically Miller – they now have Markram, Stubbs, Miller and Andile Phehluwayo, with Stubbs adding a new dynamic to the squad. “It’s exciting for us to have a player with his x-factor ability,” said Markram. “He (Stubbs) is over the moon now and it’s about staying there and enjoying every second of it. He’s a bit of a free spirit and always has a smile on his face.”

The hype surrounding Stubbs may be reminiscent of the same hope Markram brought with him after South Africa won the 2014 Under-19 World Cup and he was promoted to senior international cricket three years later. Markram said he “hasn’t quite figured it out yet” on how to manage those expectations, but his advice to Stubbs is that since “it’s been an amazing six months for him, the longer he can pull that off, the better.” more great things will happen.” come for him.”

That’s how Markram has played since the IPL, where he had a “decent bit, not great” tournament for Sunrisers Hyderabad, hitting three-fifties in his 13 innings. “Trust is a huge part of this game. This IPL tournament gave me that confidence, that faith that I was missing [earlier]Markram said.

While Markram is fairly confident in T20Is, he can’t be so sure in other formats because “I can understand that I may not have scored as many points as I should have.” In particular, his role as a Test player will come into sharp focus later this month, when South Africa will play three games against England, starting on August 17.

Markram has been included in the roster after missing the series against Bangladesh due to the IPL and after a particularly poor run. Before that, Markram had played 13 test runs with just half a century and an average of 16.38. He has since been replaced by Sarel Erwee as Dean Elgar’s opening partner, and he doesn’t think he will find his way back into the XI anytime soon. “I don’t even expect to play to be honest,” he said. “If you look at the composition of the top three, they’ve done really well over the last couple of series. I’m over the moon with the three of them.”

Asked if he might consider lowering the order in the longest format, as he has done in shorter ones, Markram said: “I’d be open to that”, but South Africa has no plans for that yet. “We haven’t had too many discussions regarding red ball cricket. That will be next week,” he said. “I’ve only done top-of-the-order stuff, but it’s something I’d be open to. If there’s a role to fill in the middle order and the coaches and selectors think there’s a space for me is, I’d be open to if I tried it, I’d have to prepare accordingly. And make those little mental adjustments.”

Wherever, or arguably he is, in the lineup, Markram remains committed to longer and shorter formats, even as an increasing number of players find themselves choosing between them. “I’d still love to be involved in all three formats and will do my best to keep that dream of playing in all three formats alive.”

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo’s South African correspondent

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