Markram, Miller make magic to put Proteas in the pink
Pale pink caps atop neon orange playing kit? There had to be a good reason the Dutch were dressed like an experimental flavour of ice-cream on Sunday, and there was: the worthy occasion of raising breast cancer awareness, which comes to South Africa’s biggest ground for a men’s ODI once a year to make money for charity.
The pink caps, replete with the KNCB crest, were the visitors’ own initiative. Commendably, they wanted to be “part of the cause”, an official said. The home side were, as they have been since this fixture was first played in 2013, in head to toe pink. So were many of the spectators and much of the signage, analogue as well as digital.
Often, for these matches, the Wanderers’ capacity of 28,000 is approached or even reached. This time, despite the fact that the occasion was the first Pink Day in four years not to have to navigate around Covid-19 regulations, there was plenty of vacant seating to be seen between the puddles of pink.
Perhaps because Sunday marked the 12th day of big cricket – international or SA20 – at the Wanderers in not quite 11 weeks and the market is thus sated, perhaps because the cheapest tickets cost the equivalent of USD14 – you could get into SA20 games for less than USD3 – perhaps because there are bigger drawcards in cricket than the Netherlands, only 11,897 were present at most.
Almost two thousand fewer were on hand to see Aiden Markram lash the 86th ball he faced, bowled by Aryan Dutt, through the covers for four to reach his first ODI century in his 47th innings, six of which ended after 50 and one at 96. A few more spectators had arrived by the time Markram smoked Paul van Meekeren over square leg for six to go to 150. The first of those strokes shimmered with elegance, the second jarred. Its visceral violence seemed out of character. How could the dots between that shot and its apparently placid, well-mannered executor be connected?
“As a sportsman you naturally get competitive, and at that stage in the innings you’re trying to be aggressive with your body language and your strokemaking,” Markram, long since returned to his even tempered modesty, told a press conference. “Maybe that’s why it came across like that. You are competitive but you still need to be respectful on the field. You want to have a competitive edge at all times. Finding that balance can be tricky emotionally, but you want to try and stay calm.”
More than 10,000 saw Markram heave at Fred Klaasen in the 46th and send a flat, fast and furious flog to long-on, where Tom Cooper did well to hang onto the catch and end an innings that veered from the ridiculous to the sublime, succumbing to the brutal and the beautiful along the way, at 175. Reminded that he matched the score Herschelle Gibbs achieved in the fabled 438 ODI against Australia at the Wanderers in March 2006, Markram said, “His was probably a lot better than mine. To be able to score the same amount of runs as him is relieving and a great memory for me.”
Markram’s performance drew praise from Scott Edwards: “He’s very traditional in the way he bats, so setting a field to him is not that hard. But the fact that if he misses cover by a metre he smokes it and it’s going to the fence put him a class above today.”
Rob Walter, too, was impressed: “His cricket is orthodox but the purity of his timing has been amazing and his decision-making has been outstanding. The way he batted through the middle of the innings, the way he rotated strike, it was very low risk cricket for high yield. That’s the type of decision-making we want to see.”
The only figure involved who seemed reluctant to talk Markram up was Markram. “Credit must go to the pitches we’ve been getting, which allow for strokeplay,” he said. “And quick outfields and, sometimes small, boundaries. I try to keep it orthodox and back the things I’ve always done. When conditions allow I try to keep it simple and keep good cricket shots at the front of my mind.”
Markram was part of stands of 62 with Rassie van der Dussen, 51 with Heinrich Klaasen, and 199 off 118 with David Miller, the second-highest for South Africa’s fifth wicket. Miller also featured in the record effort – an unbroken 256 with JP Duminy against Zimbabwe in Hamilton during the 2015 World Cup – and in South Africa’s biggest partnerships for the fourth and ninth wickets. Miller looked to be also on his way to a first century before, six balls after Markram went, skying a return catch to van Meekeren to go for 91.
While Markram and Miller were hitting the Dutch attack’s offerings as if they were handfuls of M&Ms tossed underarm, two small boys in the stands held up a homemade sign: “Bat like Lance & Gibbs”. They were decades too young to know who Lance Gibbs and his Test batting average of 6.97 are, but their joke wasn’t wasted. And if you narrowed your eyes and used your imagination, it wasn’t difficult to imagine that the skywalking right-hander and the bristling left-hander you could see, hear and feel demolishing the bowling were indeed from another era; a time when South Africa would make it to World Cup knockout matches.
Both Markram and Miller sent sixes into the crowd that struck spectators painful blows, and Miller kept careful enough track of his bruiser to hold up a hand in apology to his unintended and unwitting victim.
That seemed to start a trend that continued during the Dutch innings. The medics were on the field at the end of the 10th over to attend to a prone, writhing Musa Ahmad, who had been felled by an Anrich Nortje bouncer into his ribs. Nortje repeated the dose 5.3 overs later, this time hitting Musa on the breast – and this time following through all the way through to his stricken target to put a hand on his shoulder and enquire after his state of health.
But admirable things happened on the way to South Africa inflicting a beating on their outmatched opponents. Klaasen bowled with enough nous to get away with conceding 43 runs from all 10 of his overs; no mean feat in a total of 370/8 and when the next best economy rate is 7.75. His bowling had everything to do with South Africa not breaching 400, as they seemed on course to do. Musa rose from his repeated assaults to score 61 off 69 – his first half-century in his 13th innings.
It took a screamer of a catch to remove him in the 26th, when Heinrich Klaasen dived full length at backward point to snare the ball low enough for the backs of his hands to be on the turf. At least, that was the official verdict after the umpires, who had signalled out on the field, referred the catch for review. Grainy replay after grainy replay brought us no closer to the conclusive truth. The process took long enough for the announcer to be able to play, in its entirety, Technotronic’s “Pump Up the Jam” – which lasts three minutes and 36 seconds – and start the next song before the decision was handed down.
That was part of the nuggety Netherlanders narrative. They never looked like challenging the required runrate seriously and they lost their last five wickets for seven runs. That was thanks largely to Sisanda Magala taking a career-best 5/43 by deploying the old-fashioned but deadly plan of aiming at the stumps; four of his victims were cleanbowled. But, although the Dutch were dismissed inside 40 overs and 146 runs short, it was difficult to say they had been beaten. Outbatted, outbowled, even outplayed, yes. But beaten is a state of mind, and it wasn’t theirs.