Aiden Markram knew what he was walking into when he accepted the captaincy of a depleted South Africa side in an ODI series against arguably the best team in the world. He is the second-youngest South Africa captain, his captaincy debut came in only his third ODI, and half way into the day he was sitting in a press conference trying to make sense of South Africa’s lowest score at home. Next to him sat the South Africa batting coach, Dale Benkenstein, as if to protect – where you can – the boy otherwise thrown to the wolves already.
“Obviously, the guys are very upset and disappointed,” Markram said. “But the beauty of it is that everyone’s disappointed in themselves, and not in others in the team. That’s where the culture stands out, it stands strong. Each player will look to get better now going forward. It is a quick turnaround but it might fire the guys up going into the remaining four matches, which I think is a great thing for us.”
India’s spinners have taken 13 South Africa wickets in two matches, with two of the remaining experienced batsmen in their middle order not looking good against spin. The alarm bells are ringing, but Markram is not ready to accept that in a press conference at least. Before the ODI, he said he saw no problem against spin, and after his side was bowled out for 118 he doesn’t call it a “danger”.
“Look, obviously they are two quality bowlers in their own right,” Markram said of Yuzvendra Chahal and Kuldeep Yadav, who bagged a five-for and a three-wicket haul respectively. “I don’t think we played them particularly well, and that’s where our downfall was today. Having said that, you are never going to come across a bad attack in international cricket, and you’re never going to come across a bad batting line-up in international cricket either. It’s just one of those things. I don’t think we played spin incredibly well, it’s obviously something we need to work on, but it’s not a massive danger for us, I don’t think.”
In an ideal world, Markram would have played out most of the spin without taking too many risks. He would have liked to have taken the innings deep but he pulled a short ball straight to deep midwicket, one ball after Quinton de Kock had done that.
“My general game plan is to try and take it quite deep, bat through the innings and let our attacking batsmen sort of play around me,” Markram said. “I obviously didn’t do that today, that’s what happens in cricket. I try to keep it as low-risk as possible, and then as soon as we get partnerships building, we’ll chat between players and identify which bowler we’d like to put some pressure on and which guy we think we should just going low-risk. It all depends on the day as well.”
It could be argued some of the batsmen that followed him didn’t really have much of a game plan. Markram was asked if the problem was not in the execution, but, in fact, in the absence of plans. “Look, I don’t think there’s too much of a lack of a game plan,” Markram said. “If you speak to each individual in our top six, top seven, each person has got a clear plan. So it obviously comes down to execution on the day. Like I said, they are two quality wristspinners and we give them credit. But I still think we can execute better, and that’s the nice thing. It’s not that something that’s drastic that has to change. The plans are in place, now we’ve just got to keep working hard to execute, that’s all.”
Benkenstein was happy with the team’s intent – “230-240 wouldn’t have been a winning total anyway” – but he was more realistic about the challenge of facing these spinners. South Africa don’t come across such wicket-taking spinners every day, and it is not going to be easy to formulate plans with only two days between all ODIs.
“It’s very difficult,” Benkenstein admitted. “Unless we can call them [Kuldeep and Chahal] into our nets for the practice. That’s the beauty of international cricket, you know. You’ve got to come up with a plan obviously. I guess everybody’s got the ability to do it. We’ve had two games and there are no excuses. We’ve got a few net bowlers who are a little bit slow. We saw Justin Ontong come and bowl those offspinners off his knee [to replicate Kedar Jadhav]. So, as management, we try and do everything possible, obviously.
“But at the end of the day, the batters have got to work it out. They’ve got to execute their own game plan and obviously got to do their job out in the middle. So there isn’t much more that you can do in the nets. You’re not going to get them to come and bowl at you. That’s the tough thing about international cricket.”
Benkenstein didn’t want his batsmen to give up attacking the spinners. “I’d much rather them playing that way than being too scared to hit the ball,” he said. “We can learn a lot a from the way Indian batters play spin. Any loose ball that our spinners bowl, they are looking to hit it for four or six. There is a bit of learning to be done there. The other tough thing is you are playing against two wristspinners, that a not a lot of players have played against. It does take time to get used to their change-ups, their variations.”