Reeza Hendricks has the experience, Aiden Markram’s talent is unquestionable and, of course, there’s the run-machine Janneman Malan, writes Zaahier Adams.
CAPE TOWN – FOR all the Proteas’ problems in trying to transform into a consistently high-performing international white-ball team, they certainly don’t lack any options at the top of the order.
Quinton de Kock sits easily among the most dynamic openers in the world, as the former skipper once again showed with a scintillating 120 off just 96 balls in the series decider against Ireland last Friday in Malahide.
That leaves room for just one more alongside him. The contenders are plentiful. Reeza Hendricks has the experience, Aiden Markram’s talent is unquestionable and, of course, there’s the run-machine Janneman Malan.
Captain Temba Bavuma also enters the equation when the Proteas switch over to the shorter format – like it will on Monday when the three-match T20I series gets under way.
— Cricket South Africa (@OfficialCSA) July 18, 2021
But this is an ODI conversation. And one that should be closed now after Malan’s 261 runs in two matches against Ireland. It should have been done after the 25-year-old struck a century in his second ODI against Australia back in 2019 already, but the Markram obsession needed to be entertained once more during the home summer against Pakistan.
It is easy to understand the reasons for going back to Markram every time. He times the ball so sweetly with that high back lift almost intoxicating. And every cover drive that is caressed through the covers tugs at the heart strings.
But his numbers simply don’t stack up to Malan’s. Even though his overall average of 26.81 rises to 33.92 when facing the new ball, Malan’s average is now 120.75 after seven matches.
It may not be a large sample size, but the hugely impressive factor is the way Malan manages to put aside weeks of frustration of being left out of the side and then performs almost on demand when called upon.
“At this level, you don’t know how many games you’re going to get, so to help myself mentally I just tell myself that if I am going to miss the next match then I must go out on my own terms,” Malan said after his career-best 177 not out.
“I back myself and I don’t want to play out of desperation to keep my spot. I just let go and do my best, and if that’s not good enough then I can deal with that.”
It certainly is a mature way to approach things for it doesn’t seem like coach Mark Boucher is fully convinced as yet, with lingering thoughts about Markram still occupying his mind.
“He (Malan) has been waiting on the sidelines for quite a while and yes, he is getting opportunities and he has certainly taken it,” Boucher said.
“He has certainly put up his hand and he is giving selectors a good headache which is a good thing for cricket in our country. It is tough because they are all quality cricketers and in the ideal world you want all of them playing.
“We thought about trying to up skill guys in being able to bat out of their normal positions. A guy like Aiden has done it where he batted at number three in franchise cricket. It is a good headache to have and they are putting pressure on each other and there is good competition upfront there.
“If they perform it is going to be difficult to leave them out but there is always going to be that one guy who unfortunately is going to miss out.”
It just can’t be Malan anymore.