Cullinan predicts Centurion runfest
In addition, Daryll Cullinan and Gaurav Kalra discuss fifth bowling option for India and South Africa's stand-in captain Aiden Markram
Aiden Markram will captain South Africa. No, not just in the remaining five ODIs against India but eventually, he will become South Africa's permanent leader.
That's the message South African management sent out when they named Markram, he of only two ODI caps, as the stand-in for the injured Faf du Plessis. They have identified him as their future frontman.
Never mind that Markram is the least experienced among the capped members of the squad (and there are only three that are uncapped) Never mind that he may not even have played the first ODI if AB de Villiers had been fit. Never mind that he has not even captained his franchise in fifty-over cricket. In Markram, CSA's administrators have found someone with the qualities they believe will serve the game well. He is a top-performer, he is mature, he works well with others and they want to blood him early.
South Africa have gone this route before. Graeme Smith was also named captain at the age of 22, but he had had played 22 ODIs and spent 12 months with the national side by then. Markram has played just two ODIs and has only been around this team for eight months, since the Test tour of England in July last year, but he is only standing in and South Africa do not want to make the mistake they did when Smith was around.
Between 2003 and 2014, when Smith retired, South Africa only considered succession once. In 2011, when Smith opted out of leading the limited-overs' sides. AB de Villiers and Hashim Amla were made captain and vice-captain and the next six years were punctuated with problems. De Villiers missed his first series in charge against Australia in late 2011 with an injury so Amla led but 18 months later when de Villiers was suspended for over-rate violations - something that became commonplace in his captaincy - Amla decided he did not want to be the substitute and gave up the vice-captaincy. Faf du Plessis stepped in on that occasion and again when de Villiers was out in 2017.
But in between that, in March 2014, Amla decided he was willing to lead and put his name in the mix when Smith retired from Tests. Amla got the job de Villiers was expecting but again, did not last too long. In early 2016, Amla stepped down, de Villiers became captain despite workload concerns and then got injured, forcing du Plessis to take over. De Villiers stood down in late 2017, after du Plessis had led South Africa to a third successive Test series win in Australia, but returned as one-day captain. It was only after the Champions Trophy in mid-2017 that de Villiers stepped aside and du Plessis took over in all formats.
Essentially, it took South Africa six years to recover from the loss of a stable leader. In that time, they lost the No.1 ranking and were booted out of another World Cup (2015) in heartbreaking circumstances. A repeat of that would be disastrous, so best South Africa look ahead now, especially since du Plessis was 32 - and not 22 as Smith was - when he became full-time captain.
So to Markram, who is best known for taking South Africa's Under-19 side to World Cup glory in 2014, but who has held other leadership roles since. He was in charge of the South African A side for their four-day matches in England last winter and captained them at home against India. At the start of the season, he was named Titans first-class captain.
Markram scored a century in his first innings in charge of a side that included Test opener Dean Elgar, captain Faf du Plessis, wicketkeeper Quinton de Kock and pace ace Morne Morkel. The following week, he made his Test debut alongside the same men and the week after that, he notched up his first international hundred. By the end of 2017, Makram had two Test centuries from three matches and despite the opposition being Bangladesh and Zimbabwe, had already established himself as a permanent partner to Elgar.
Markram has since played six Test innings against India, with a top score of 94. But he was not an automatic pick for the ODIs. "Vision 2019" had to come into the picture and South Africa, looking to expand their player pool ahead of the World Cup, found Markram , the man who holds the record for the highest List A score in a franchise cricket in South Africa (183 off 138 balls) He was not an automatic pick for the Durban ODI on Thursday, even with de Villiers injured. Khaya Zondo, whose chance is long overdue after he was picked in the squad to face India in 2015, was expected to be handed a debut. And he was definitely not an automatic pick as stand-in captain, with JP Duminy having done the job before in T20Is and more recently for the Cobras.
But South Africa are thinking ahead. Markram is the real deal and they know it. It took him longer than his under-19 team-mate Kagiso Rabada to work his way up in the professional ranks but that time was well-spent. He piled on runs for the University of Pretoria Academy, for Northers and for Titans. He learnt his game under quality coaches including Kruger van Wyk and Mark Boucher and he began to understand what it takes to succeed at the highest level.
As a batsman, Markram has wonderful temperament. But as a leader, he is an unknown. The early signs are that he is someone who listens better than he talks, who seeks opinion before giving his, who is measured and considered and understands what is expected of him. That's the kind of captain South Africa want and his future starts now.