Cape Town – Aiden Markram, perhaps more than any other South African, is fit, firing and ready for the Cricket World Cup in England.
While the likes of Quinton de Kock, Faf du Plessis and David Miller have been scoring runs in the fast-paced, frantic IPL, Markram has been notching up some invaluable experience where it matters most this year: in the country that will host the World Cup.
The 24-year-old has been in sometimes unearthly form over the last two months ever since he started obliterating South African attacks midway through the domestic One Day Cup.
Markram’s 542 runs in just 5 knocks, and at a strike rate of 132.84, saw him leave that tournament as comfortably the leading run scorer, but it is his latest stint in England that is most encouraging.
Not that long ago, Markram was battling to convince the selectors that he should be in the World Cup squad at all.
Now, it is difficult to envisage a situation where he is left out of the May 30 tournament opener against the hosts at The Oval.
Markram has just completed a one-month stint at Hampshire, where he played in two first-class matches as well as eight List A fixtures.
The games came thick and fast, and Markram thrived.
He will not be around for the of the remainder of the Royal London One Day Cup, but after eight rounds of fixtures he is the second-highest run scorer in the competition with 466 at an average of 58.25 and a strike rate of 101.96.
One white ball century and three half-centuries later, Markram is on his way back to South Africa where he will meet up with the Proteas at a May 12 camp.
As was the case in the local One Day Cup, Markram showed in England that he is versatile, scoring runs from both the top of the order and at No 3.
While his ODI average remains a modest 29.58, hiss current form suggests that he needs to play in England.
The question is, where?
The obvious answer is that he opens the batting alongside De Kock with the out of form Hashim Amla sidelined.
Amla’s personal struggles over the last month – his father has been critically ill – have seen him less focused on cricket than he would have liked to have been during this crucial time.
He has been backed in the squad, but Amla is not where he should be, form-wise, at this stage.
The selectors, however, may have other ideas and if Amla’s experience and pedigree is enough to see him picked at The Oval, then Markram’s role becomes uncertain.
Du Plessis, Miller and JP Duminy are the other senior men in the top order and all of them will play.
That leaves Rassie van der Dussen as the other possible scapegoat to make way for a Markram inclusion, though that would be incredibly harsh given how well the 30-year-old has played in all formats and at all levels ever since he was given his Proteas ‘in’.
If anyone has earned their World Cup place, it is Van der Dussen, and that must be rewarded.
The only other alternative is to play all seven of the abovementioned specialist batsmen in a move that would see the allrounder sacrificed and Duminy batting at No 7.
That would mean, however, that Duminy and Markram would need to share 10 overs as the fifth bowler.
Markram did bowl a bit in England and was successful, but the responsibility of turning the arm over at a World Cup may be a bridge too far for him at this stage.
The smart money is that it will once again be a case of Markram v Amla, this time for a World Cup opening berth against England on May 30.
On form alone, it is the easiest decision a selector, coach or captain could ever hope to make.
Markram is in-form, offers an option with the ball, is a far superior fielder to Amla and has been exposed to English conditions at the most opportune time.
It seems a no-brainer, but Amla is such a giant of the modern game that leaving him out will always raise eyebrows.
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