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.”
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