Markram Hopes IPL Stint Will Help Deal With Pressure At T20 WC

Cricket News By TODAYLIVESCORE.INFO - Markram hopes IPL stint will help deal with pressure at T20 WC. Aiden Markram played six games in IPL 2021 for the Punjab Kings.

Markram Hopes IPL Stint Will Help Deal With Pressure At T20 WCAiden Markram played six games in IPL 2021 for the Punjab Kings.

For the initial three minutes of an online press conference on Monday, Aiden Markram gave nothing away. First the virtually gathered reporters couldn't see him. Then he couldn't hear them. All together now: unmute!

Happily, in cricket and much else, how you start is less important than how you finish. Once all the boxes had been ticked and communication opened, Markram concurred: “Guys who consistently finish games well in terms of high strike rates and the ability to find the boundary having just walked to the crease is something I've got a new appreciation for. But then you walk in and a team is 30/3, and you need to build a partnership to get to something that's half-defendable. Neither of them are easy.”

Markram knows what he's talking about in the wake of his six innings for the Punjab Kings in this year's IPL. He didn't bat higher than No. 4 and twice came in at No. 5. He took guard before the end of the fifth over only once and twice after the 10th. He faced between eight and 32 balls and was not dismissed before the 13th over. He banked scores between 13 and 42, and earned a not out. One of his innings stretched into the 17th over and two into the 16th.

This isn't untrod territory for Markram. Blessed with a textbook technique, he seems the epitome of an opener. But the fact that he has batted at Nos. 3 and 4 in seven of his 13 T20I innings takes us closer to the truth. There is an argument for keeping him at the top of the order – his T20I strike rate is 171.30 as an opener and 131.61 at Nos. 3 and 4 – but it's difficult to believe he couldn't find the gears to power his teams' innings to their destination in style.

Did the IPL help him progress in the cause of starting that part of his engine? “I'm not sure if it has or hasn't, but it was a great experience. I was in a less familiar role and it was nice to be exposed to that at a high standard of cricket, and to learn on the job.”

It was a job that came with significant perks: “To mingle with some seriously good players who do the IPL circuit post-game, chatting to guys who have done well, legends of T20 cricket, was good. It was nice to get some information from them and also to work things out for yourself in the middle of a game.”

The Kings lost half of the games Markram played and couldn't string two wins together among them. But they went down by six runs and three runs and with six balls to spare. They won by five runs and with three balls remaining, as well as by six wickets with 42 deliveries still in the tank. Mostly, the contests were tight.

“In T20 cricket, at a World Cup or domestic or international series, results come down to the last three overs if not the last ball,” Markram said. “It was good to be exposed to that, because I'm sure games are going to go to the wire at the World Cup. It's about dealing with that pressure in the moment when two to three balls could change the whole outcome of the game.”

Ah yes, the T20 WC, which was why Markram was burbling into his phone from a hotel room in Abu Dhabi. Cricket-minded South Africans won't have missed the ominousness of the tournament, which will be played in the UAE and Oman from October 17 to November 24, straddling Halloween. Their team have been to 22 editions of the men's World Cup, Champions Trophy and T20 WC. And come up empty-handed 21 times. Only once – at the 1998 International Cup in Bangladesh, which has evolved into the Champions Trophy – have they emerged victorious.

If that's what they deserved, so be it. But the ghost under South Africans' beds is that too many of those failures have come down not to superior opposition but to their side's propensity for playing below themselves when they can least afford it.

They've been almost all trick, hardly any treat, as seen in their most recent appearance at a tournament. They won just three of eight completed games at the 2019 World Cup in England, their worst performance in eight trips to the event.

Of that squad, only Markram, Quinton de Kock, David Miller, Lungi Ngidi, Dwaine Pretorius, Kagiso Rabada, Tabraiz Shamsi and Rassie van der Dussen have been selected for the T20 version. Of those, only Markram and Rabada know what it takes to win a World Cup: they were part of the South Africa side who earned the under-19 title in 2014. But only Markram knows what it means to lead the horse to water and make it drink – he captained that team.

What ramped up the challenge from under-19 to senior level? “The pressure is a lot more. The World Cup is a high-pressure environment, and under all that pressure you need to put performances together as individuals to help the team win. At under-19 level, there's not too much of that. At the time there wasn't too much media exposure. There was a lot less pressure on the players to bring a trophy home. You experience the same type of things but everything's a lot more exaggerated at a big World Cup.”

That's four mentions of pressure in one answer. We get it: it's the pressure, stupid. So it can only help that Temba Bavuma, Bjorn Fortuin, Reeza Hendricks, Heinrich Klaasen, Keshav Maharaj, Wiaan Mulder and Anrich Nortje – who are all in the T20 WC squad – were not part of South Africa's increasingly dire trudge around England two years ago. But they have been involved in the revival of a side who have won four of their last six series and drawn another. Suddenly, 2019 and all that seems far away.

“We haven't had too many chats about that World Cup,” Markram said. “When conditions didn't suit our plans, we almost didn't have other plans to fall back on. That's been addressed, and we've got a way of cricket we'd like to play against each team. But if conditions on the day don't allow for that we have to be smarter and have another plan to fall back on. Having the skill set to trust in that change of plan has been important. Over the last 12 to 18 months the team have up-skilled themselves. That's probably the biggest thing we can take from the 2019 World Cup.

“We're not bringing too much baggage into this World Cup. Everyone here is pretty free-spirited and not too fazed about being at a World Cup, in a good way. Everyone's very calm so far. Obviously we'll try not to make the same mistakes that we did in 2019, but this is a different format and completely different conditions, and we've got a completely different side.”

Not everything is different. That 2014 under-19 triumph was also achieved in the UAE – which also hosted the IPL. But it seems things have changed since then, and not just because Markram, Rabada and Andile Phehlukwayo are the only members of that squad to have made the leap to the big league of international cricket.

“I thought it would be quite generic but each ground had its own set of challenges,” Markram said, on the basis of his IPL experience. “The pitches weren't the easiest to bat on, but as the batter gets in he can still take the game away from the opposition. It's tougher for newer batters coming in.

“Sharjah was probably the toughest batting wicket out of the three here, and Abu Dhabi was probably the nicest to bat on. Taking pace off the ball has been a go-to, and bowling the spinners at the right time is a really attacking move. But if you bowl them at the wrong time it can backfire.”

What Markram thinks matters. Of the T20 WC squad, only De Kock, Miller and Rabada have played more senior internationals, regardless of format, than he has. Best he stays unmuted.

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