Markram's fighting century means Australia will have to wait for win

Alex Broun 21:09 04/03/2018
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This wasn’t meant to be the script.

With Australia in total control and South Africa needing the second biggest run-chase in cricket history – 417 – everything pointed to the tourists going one-nil up in the First Test at Kingsmead.

But someone forgot to tell Aiden Markram that, with his brilliant knock taking this match into a fifth day.

The South African young gun, playing just his 12th innings in his seventh Test, was a lone hand to keep the fired-up Aussies attack at bay on a wicket that was not helpful for batting.

The 23-year-old, who scored 143 from 218 balls and batted for 340 minutes, became the first century-maker in a Test that up that point had been dominated by the ball.

He was not assisted by the big names in the South African line-up who fell regularly around him with no other batsman in the top five reaching double figures – Dean Elgar went for nine, Hashim Amla (8), Faf du Plessis (4) and AB de Villiers (0).

The dismissal of De Villiers should have brought the hosts, and Markram, undone.

The South African legend called the young opener through for a single. Markram stood his ground and sent him back.

De Villiers didn’t get there in time and Nathan Lyon gleefully ran him out.

David Warner, not known to the shy type, then gave Markram a gob-full along the lines of “Good work old chap, you just ran your best player and only hope of victory out.”

Clearly Markram didn’t listen as 50 overs later he was still there, bringing up his third Test century while Lyon was still waiting for his first wicket of the innings.

By the final hour of the day he was closing on 150 – already notching up the third-highest fourth innings score in South Africa’s history.

He found a willing partner in Quinton de Kock as South Africa worked their way towards what would be the most remarkable test victory.

But then Markram’s stunning innings should not have come as a surprise.

In a Test career that only began against Bangladesh last September, the Centurion-born right-hander has shown an elegant technique as proficient as much against spin and pace.

In December, he scored his second Test hundred against Zimbabwe and became the first Proteas player to score two centuries in his first three Tests.

He didn’t manage a ton in the series against India – his best effort 94 in the second Test – but when captain Faf du Plessis was ruled out of the ODIs and the T20 series against India, Markram was named as South Africa’s captain.

At the age of 23 years 123 days, he became the second-youngest player to captain South Africa in ODIs after Graeme Smith.

The Northerns’ opener is clearly up for the challenge and made of tougher stuff than the Aussies expected.

In the end, Markram was undone by a stunning catch from Aussie keeper Tim Paine off Mitch Marsh for 143 as South Africa finished the day on 293-9 and requiring an unlikely 124 more runs. Australia, of course, just need a solitary wicket to seal it on Monday.

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