While many have been engaged in debates surrounding the state of South Africa’s pitches, Aiden Markram has defied conditions with back-to-back innings of remarkable fluency.
His 78 in Cape Town showed that a bouncy, seaming track needn’t be a hindrance to stroke-play, while his 90 on the opening day of the Wanderers Test was “probably up there with the best I’ve moved in a session”.
As at Newlands, Markram didn’t have it all his own way early on, watching his captain depart to one that seamed appreciably off the track. But he struck back with 14 boundaries before lunch, putting on 126 with Hashim Amla to steady South Africa’s innings on what appeared to be a benign surface.
“I thought it was quite tricky up front,” said Markram. “In the first five-six-seven overs, their seamers made it really hard for us and the ball was going around a bit. But it was nice to get a good partnership with Hash. It was quite important to get through that first hour, and allow us to set up a chance for us to go big after that.”
What was most remarkable about Markram’s innings was not just the number of boundaries and his rapid scoring, but the shot selection of what to hit and what to block, or leave. He showed respect where due.
“It’s important to still respect good balls and identify good balls that you can’t be getting out to and need to be showing respect towards,” said Markram, who felt South Africa’s 262 was a little under par. “But when a bad one does present itself or a ball in your zone to score, you need to be in the frame of mind to put it away and try and keep scoring. That’s important for me, I feel I move quite well when I’m looking to score. It’s a bit of the intensity as well, and a lot of the natural and instinctive things take over as well.”
He was also “excited” by Zubayr Hamza’s first showing at Test level, the young right-hander cruising to 41 before he was late pulling his bat out of the way of a Mohammad Amir delivery and feathered an edge through to the keeper. Pieter Malan could’ve been South Africa’s second debutant here had Markram not recovered from the bruised thigh he picked up in the field in Cape Town.
“I’m very lucky with Craig Govender being our physio. He’s incredibly good at what he does, and he put a lot of care into trying to get me ready. It was sort of a miraculous recovery if you can call it that, I never looked like playing three days ago, it was just too much pain.”
The one remaining question mark for South Africa is their selection of four seamers, and no specialist spinner, on a track that also gave legspinner Shadab Khan some encouragement.
“I think when you see turn and you’ve left out a spinner and we’ll be bowling in the fourth innings, there will be question marks. But at the end of the day, we’ve selected our four quicks, and they did the job in Cape Town so we have to back them to deliver the goods even if the wicket does get flat and even if the wicket is spinner friendly. Our seamers need to find a way to take wickets. We’ve got with our selection, now we need to back it up.”
Mohammad Amir peeved by Sarfraz Ahmed’s criticism
If Sarfraz Ahmed‘s criticism of his bowlers at the conclusion of the Cape Town Test was intended to provoke a response, he might have played a masterstroke. After two sessions of South African domination on the first day at the Wanderers, Pakistan, spearheaded by Mohammad Amir, dragged themselves back into the contest. In the most commanding passage of play with the ball Pakistan have enjoyed on this tour, they took the last seven South African wickets for just 33 runs, bowling them out for 262, a below-par total according to Aiden Markram.
Sarfraz had publicly and robustly questioned the lower pace of his bowlers as compared to South Africa’s after Cape Town, an approach that had raised eyebrows at the time because Pakistan’s struggle to be competitive was more firmly rooted in their batting. On the first day of the series in Centurion, after the visitors had been bowled out for 181, they had reduced South Africa to 44 for 4, and bowled them out for 223. In the second innings, Pakistan slumped from 101 for 1 to 190 all out, leading Mickey Arthur to have a stern word with the batsmen.
In the second Test, Pakistan found themselves bowled out for 177 on the first day, though this time the bowlers failed to restrict South Africa to a total that would have kept the game competitive.
Amir, appearing at the end of the first day’s play at the Wanderers, was prickly when probed about his captain’s comments. “Please leave this question,” he shot back. “Leave this question. Are we done?” Five minutes into his press conference, he walked out.
ESPNcricinfo understands that Amir was especially peeved by Sarfraz’s censorious remarks in the aftermath of Cape Town, which he understood to be more pointedly directed at him than any of the other bowlers. According to CricViz, Amir bowled 61% of his deliveries in the 120-132 kph range, which meant his bowling in Cape Town was the slowest of his career. The other bowlers are also understood to not be especially pleased with the remarks and, crucially, it was an assessment that others in the team set-up did not share. Amir’s curt response suggests that this story may have some distance to run.
Sarfraz himself has been under pressure, both for the team’s performances under him as well as his own batting form: a pair in the first Test, 53 and 6 at Cape Town. And given how publicly frustrated and harangued he can appear to be by his bowlers and fielders, this development will not help.
At least for the first two sessions today it looked as if the bowlers were not responding well to the criticism. It was a spell of play where Amir admitted the bowlers hadn’t been on the top of their game.
“The first two sessions we didn’t bowl well,” he said. “But after tea, we made a plan that we had to bowl wicket to wicket and we have to control run rate so we can get wickets. So that was the idea and I think we were successful.
“This wicket is far better than previous wickets. If you settle in, you can get the runs and wickets. But I always believe when you stick with the basics whether you’re a bowler or batsmen, you can get the reward.”
Joe Clarke and Tom Kohler-Cadmore stood down from Lions tour after WhatsApp sex revelations
Joe Clarke and Tom Kohler-Cadmore have been dropped from the England Lions squad that leaves for India on Saturday, after revelations about the pair’s off-field behaviour emerged in the course of the rape trial of their former Worcestershire team-mate, Alex Hepburn.
Hepburn faces the prospect of a retrial after the jury at Worcester Crown Court failed to meet a majority verdict on Friday, following a five-day case which featured an alleged “WhatsApp sexual conquest game” among its central planks of evidence.
In the course of the trial, it was alleged that Hepburn had attacked an unnamed girl in April 2017, having entered Clarke’s bed while she was sleeping.
It was heard that Clarke had already had consensual sex with the girl on the night in question, and having been arrested in the aftermath of the alleged incident, he was released without charge.
Kohler-Cadmore, who was not present on the night in question, was not arrested. However, his first name appeared to be referenced during the prosecution’s examination of the WhatsApp messages, which included Hepburn’s posting of the “rules” of the game. It is understood that a number of other young Worcestershire players were also involved.
In his summing-up of the case Judge Jim Tindal said: “It was effectively a competition – and I regret to use this word but it seems to be accurate – to ‘collect’ as many sexual conquests as possible. It’s about ‘collecting’ new girls – to them, ‘freshies’, as they put it.”
Although the case may not yet be concluded, the revelations are a further embarrassment to the ECB, a body which has spent much of the past 15 months dealing with the fall-out of the Ben Stokes incident in Bristol in September 2017.
That case was finally closed in December when the Cricket Discipline Commission imposed fines and suspended sentences on both Stokes and his team-mate, Alex Hales – who received further punishment after inappropriate images were widely circulated on social media in the wake of the original incident.
Speaking at Lord’s last week in his unveiling as the ECB’s new director of England cricket, Ashley Giles warned that he would be taking a hard line on player discipline during his tenure, as England build towards a seismic summer featuring a home World Cup and an Ashes series, in which England’s squads can expect to be under intense scrutiny.
Giles’ first move has come quickly, with England Lions due to fly out to India at the weekend for a five-match 50-over series against India A, starting on January 23, before two unofficial Tests in February.
The two players had been named in both the 50-over and first-class squads, and are considered to be two of the most promising up-and-coming talents in the country.
Clarke, 22, left Worcestershire for Nottinghamshire at the end of the summer, while Kohler-Cadmore, 24, left for Yorkshire midway through 2017.
The incident also resulted in the departure of Worcestershire’s former head coach, Steve Rhodes, who was sacked in January last year, and relieved of his duties as England’s Under-19 coach, after it emerged that he had delayed reporting Hepburn’s arrest to the club.
It is the second high-profile suspension this week involving cricketers and their off-field actions, after the India duo, Hardik Pandya and KL Rahul, were sent home from the tour of Australia pending an enquiry into controversial comments they made during a chat show.
‘Plan of controlling run rate worked’ – Amir
Mohammad Amir may have taken time to put plans into action, but South Africa found themselves in a straitjacket once he began to execute them. Having gone wicketless despite being the tightest of the Pakistan bowlers in a pair of sessions where South Africa scored close to four runs per over, the left-arm fast bowler found his rewards after tea.
For his part, Amir said the riches he and his fellow bowlers found after tea had to do with sticking to the plans more effectively than they had done on a surface that offers more to the batsmen than the previous two did.
“When the batsman is settled in, he can get the runs. It’s very difficult to control the run rate but as I said, if you stick with the plans, you can get rewards,” he said. “You have to bowl as a combination. It’s a bowling unit so we have to back each other up. I think (Mohammad) Abbas and I were doing that because that was the plan to control the run rate. That’s why we were successful.”
Numbers show Amir was most effective just short of a good length. Of the 27 balls, he conceded nine runs; it was also the length that brought him both wickets. In addition, the South African batsmen were in control for just 70.3% of the deliveries Amir bowled at that length, the least comfortable they were at any length for any bowler all innings.
Amir said there wasn’t a special plan for any batsmen, but added that Aiden Markram had played exceptionally well and required the greatest effort to bring back under control.
“I was bowling with the same plan. He was a good batsman playing very good shots. We were bowling with the plan, we had to bowl on middle and off. We don’t want to give him runs and we did it.”
Pakistan’s bowling fightback aside, the mood after the high of the final session would be slightly sullied by losing two early wickets in an awkward seven overs before stumps. Most worryingly, it was the man in form, Shan Masood, and the man supposed to be the leader of the batting attack, Azhar Ali, who succumbed before play, leading Amir to believe the game was very much in the balance.
“It’s a 50/50 call [on who won the day],” he said. “It’s Test cricket and you can’t predict anything before the match ends. We have to bat well and if we don’t lose a wicket in the first session (on Saturday) we have a good chance. We are teammates and we have to back up each other. It’s cricket and anything can happen. Sometimes I didn’t bowl well and sometimes you struggle with the batting. It’s all about momentum.”
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