Image courtesy of: ESPNcricinfo
Former South Africa skipper Graeme Smith was less than impressed with the decision to put Aiden Markram in charge for the recently concluded ODI series against India.
Markram was handed the captaincy role after regular skipper Faf du Plessis was ruled out for the remainder of the limited overs series after fracturing his right index finger during the first ODI in Durban.
Despite winning a rain-affected fourth ODI in Johannesburg, the Proteas struggled against India throughout the series.
The spin duo of Kuldeep Yadav and Yuzvendra Chahal caused South Africa’s batting line-up so many problems that they finished with 33 wickets between them.
India captain Virat Kohli also tormented South Africa as he scored 558 runs, which included three centuries and a fifty, at an eye-popping average of 186.
As a result of this, India went on to win the series 5-1 and subsequently secured their first-ever bilateral ODI series win in South Africa.
While Kohli excelled with the bat, Markram endured a torrid time as he accumulated 127 runs at an average of 21.16.
Given that Markram had only played two ODIs before being made captain, Smith admitted that the 23-year-old should have been given time to “grow, develop and become a strong player”.
“I don’t think it was the right decision,” Smith told ESPNcricinfo. “Everyone has been talking about his leadership. Probably coming from me that doesn’t make sense because I got given the job at a very young age. I think it was an interim thing, not a full-time thing. I would have rather have had him find his place, find his feet within the one-day set-up, try and get runs behind him. South Africa need players to step up and perform.
“I think in the short term, with AB coming in after three games he could have stepped in, and they could have looked at Duminy or Amla in the first couple and allowed someone like Markram just to settle. One, he was batting out of position at No. 4 at the start of the series, something he had to come to terms with, and then you’ve piled him under pressure not only on his own game but also as a captain. He would have gained a lot experience-wise but let’s just hope his confidence hasn’t taken a dent.
“His performances since the start of his career say that he can bat at this level. He’s obviously got the leadership credentials from Under-19, he’s spoken highly as a personality and as a person mature for his age. But I just think allowing him to grow and develop and become a strong player within the line-up, we are talking about the next-tier of cricketers. There’s a drop-off between maybe four or five senior players and the next tier. So, allow those guys to develop.
“What was disappointing for me was that I don’t think the other senior players stepped up around him – the Amlas, Duminys, Millers, those guys just never got it going from a performance perspective, an intensity perspective. They needed to get behind and lead the way almost.”
Smith also expressed his concerns about the Proteas’ struggles against Kuldeep and Chahal. The former took 17 wickets at an average of 13.88, while the latter claimed 16 wickets at an average of 16.37.
“You got to wonder what the chat was about in the changeroom and how they go about it,” Smith said. “Obviously two world-class spinners, Chahal and Kuldeep, excellent finds for India. It’s just great to see some spin come back into the game.
“The mystery spinners had left the game for a period of time – the Ajmals, Warnes, Muralitharans, there’s been a little bit of a gap. So, it’s great to see two guys like that come into the game, it makes the game really interesting to watch.
“South Africa really had no thought, no plan B or C. It was really just dot ball, dot ball, ‘okay let’s have a swing.’ There was no real plan, let’s try to build a partnership, it was almost like as the partnership builds it gets slightly easier and South Africa never found a way to do that.”
With South Africa having been completely outplayed, Smith hopes the team use it as a wake-up call to organise themselves and get themselves better prepared ahead of the 2019 World Cup, which will be held in England and Wales.
“If the leadership strategically gets the thinking right, gets the tactics right and involves the right kinds of players, I think this can be a good thing for South Africa,” he said. “They’ve exposed a few more players to the international game, they have a few more players to look at and think okay, ‘how can I position that guy there, okay he looks like he might have something’ and they’ve had some exposure.
“In the long run, there’s still enough time for the World Cup to think this potentially could be a good thing. But that is only if Faf and Ottis [Gibson] and the selection panel get their head in the right place and strategically pick. Once the likes of de Villiers, Faf himself and de Kock are back fit, how do they put a line up together that’s going to win a World Cup.”