South Africa may be doomed to defeat in the first Test against Australia but opening batsman Aiden Markram said after a career-defining century that his team’s hopes had been raised for the rest of the four-match series.
Australia finished the fourth day one wicket short of victory with South Africa on 293 for nine, needing 417 to win, when bad light ended play at Kingsmead.
But Markram made 143 and led a stirring fightback after the side were reeling at 49 for four, with their four most senior batsmen all failing to reach double figures.
“It definitely does give us confidence,” said Markram. “It’s a long series and every innings is vitally important in the context of the series. We would like to have done it better in the first dig, especially with the bat, but we showed a lot of fight today.”
Markram praised Theunis de Bruyn, playing in his fourth Test, for taking on Australian fast bowler Mitchell Starc in a highly-charged over in which De Bruyn hit three boundaries and received an earful of abuse from the tall left-arm fast bowler.
De Bruyn made 36 in a fifth wicket stand of 87 with Markram, who was then joined by Quinton de Kock in a 147-run partnership which raised flickering hopes of South Africa achieving an improbable victory.
That hope was extinguished when Markram was caught behind by wicketkeeper Tim Paine, standing up to the medium-paced Mitchell Marsh.
Three overs later Starc took three wickets in five balls to have South Africa nine down. He was robbed of a possible hat-trick when the umpires told Australian captain Steve Smith that play would be ended for bad light unless slow bowlers were used.
De Kock, who made 81 not out, and Morne Morkel survived for nine overs against Smith and Nathan Lyon before play was finally called off, a decision which Paine said was fair.
“Even the spinners were getting harder to see,” he said.
Markram said South Africa’s recovery from a disastrous start “showed a lot of fight and character which is good going into the rest of the series.”
Markram had made centuries against Bangladesh and Zimbabwe, two of cricket’s lesser powers, but said performing against Australia in tough conditions was a personal highlight.
He said that although there was reverse swing there was minimal movement off the pitch.
“It was the sort of wicket where once you got in you could develop a plan.”
STUMPS, DAY 4: AUS need just 1 more wicket to win this match. SA 293/9, Starc 4/74, De Kock 81*, Morkel 0*, Markram 143. What a day of cricket! We’re back at Kingsmead at 10am sharp. #SAvAUS #ProteaFire #SunfoilTest pic.twitter.com/yabrc8bH1r
— Cricket South Africa (@OfficialCSA) March 4, 2018
He said he was not bothered by Australian attempts to unsettle him.
“There was a lot of chatter on the field. It’s something I don’t mind, it really keeps me in the game and it never really gets out of line. It’s part of the game and makes success that bit more rewarding.”
Markram also had to deal with being involved in an incident which saw star batsman AB de Villiers run out for nought.
The opener turned a ball from Lyon behind square leg and did not respond when De Villiers called him through for a run. De Villiers had to turn and tried to go back but could not beat David Warner’s throw to Lyon.
“It happens really quickly,” said Markram. “David Warner is one of the best fielders in the world and as soon as I saw it I didn’t think there was a run. It was very unfortunate. It wasn’t nice to be at the other end watching AB being run out.”
Paine’s catch of Markram, standing up to the stumps and holding a thick edge when the batsman tried to guide a ball from Marsh towards third man, was a key moment.
“I’ve tried it a few times on flattish wickets,” he said of his decision to stand close.
“There was a bit of reverse swing and we were trying to trap him on the crease and get him lbw. It mixes the batsmen’s feet up a bit and makes him play in a different way.”
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.
Thoughts in Markram’s head...— Glenn Maxwell (@Gmaxi_32) March 4, 2018
*dont run out AB*
*dont run out AB*
*dont run out AB*
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.
Nathan Lyon’s three-wicket haul in the first innings of the opening Test between South Africa and Australia is a continuation of the off-spinner’s consistency with the red ball in the past five years.
The 30-year-old has been at the top of his game and now finds himself playing a leading role in Australia’s bowling attack.
His display in the five-year period starting from March 1, 2013 puts him amongst the top-five wicket-taking bowers in the format.
Here, we take a look at those elite bowlers.
STUART BROAD – 227 WICKETS
The England pacer might have endured a dismal Ashes Down Under but that does not stop him from featuring on the list.
The 31-year-old has formed a lethal partnership with James Anderson which has seen England become a dominant force in the five-day format.
Since 2013, Broad has picked up 227 wickets in 62 Tests at an average of 27.3. It includes his career-best figures of 8-15 in an Ashes Test against Australia in Nottingham in 2015.
NATHAN LYON – 228 WICKETS
The Aussie’s recent display has seen him overtake Broad to become the fourth most successful bowler since 2013. From a relatively unknown name when he first burst on to the scene in 2011, Lyon has established himself as one of the leading spinners in world cricket.
For the first time since the retirement of Shane Warne, Australia finally have a spinner who can hold his own on any track around the globe.
His 227 wickets during the five-year period have come from 55 Tests at an average of 30.8. It includes a career-best of 8-50 against India at Bengaluru last year, proving that Lyon can flourish in the subcontinent too.
RANGANA HERATH – 229 WICKETS
One wicket ahead of Lyon is Sri Lanka veteran Rangana Herath. Though his peak might have coincided with the start of the island nation’s recent decline, take nothing away from Herath who has been defying age and convention with his orthodox left-arm spin.
The 39-year-old has been one of the rare bright sparks for the islanders in their recent travails. He has picked up 229 wickets in just 44 Tests, at an average of 26.7.
His most memorable performance came in Sri Lanka’s 105-run win over Pakistan at Colombo in 2014 where he ran through almost the entire batting card with figures of 9-127.
JAMES ANDERSON – 235 WICKETS
The 31-year-old spearhead is without a doubt the best pacer to emerge from England.
Already fifth on the all-time wicket taking list and only behind Glenn McGrath amongst pacers, Anderson has been leading England’s pace attack for nearly a decade.
A master proponent of swing and seam, Anderson has the best average among the top five bowlers in the period at 23.7.
His best came at Lords against the West Indies in a devastating spell of 7-42.
RAVICHANDRAN ASHWIN – 236 WICKETS
The off-spinner has thrived on the back of a long and extended home season for India where they swept aside everyone in front of them to establish themselves as the top dogs in Test cricket.
Ashwin has picked up his 236 wickets in only 44 Tests at an average of 24.1.
The 31-year-old’s best figures came against New Zealand at Indore in 2016 where he picked up 7-59.
He might have been usurped by the wrist-spinners in India’s limited-overs setup, but in Test cricket, Ashwin still reins large as king.