Over the last two weeks, South Africa's young ODI captain Aiden Markram has wished that he had a normal introduction to ODI cricket, as opposed to sitting in the spotlight, trying to arrest a seemingly never-ending slide after being thrust into the captaincy role only two matches into his career. However, he is also glad that he has had this experience, learning important lessons.
"Ja, that sort of thought will always come, especially seeing how the last two weeks have gone," Markram said, when asked if there were periods during the last two weeks when he had wished he had had time to fly under the radar and learn from some of the senior members of the side. "But, to be brutally honest with you, I'm happy it's happened this way; not just for me, but for us as a squad.
"It really gives us some points to learn on, and it's going to make victories in the future much much sweeter. It's going to make us work a lot harder. There's a reason it's worked out the way it has. We're learning, and we're growing. It's going to get to a stage where we really know our games and who needs to do what for the side. It's going to be an exciting 18 months coming up. The guys will be very hungry."
Asked about the biggest lesson he had personally learnt, Markram spoke of the importance of not letting captaincy affect his batting. "As a player, you still need to look after your performance," Markram, who has experience of leading South Africa Under-19s, South Africa A and domestic franchise Titans, said. "As a captain, you can only control so much. At the end of the day, I'm still a batsman and I need to score runs. When I get into the middle, I need to be in that comfort zone and not let thoughts of captaincy get into my mind at that time."
Markram has seemed like a batsman going out of his way to impose himself on the game, possibly to tell himself that he deserves the mantle he has been given. After the defeat in Port Elizabeth, coach Ottis Gibson had said Markram wasn't batting the way he had seen him bat before the captaincy.
"I wasn't playing the usual game I do play, and whether that be due to various pressures... or not being in the zone or in the moment is probably the reason," Markram said. "He [Gibson] is spot on with what he says. We did chat about it, and today, when I was batting, I felt in a more comfortable space. I felt I was structuring my innings how I would if I was batting in a franchise game. It's very late in the series, but it's a positive that I was able to overcome that obstacle."
Markram admitted to there being extra pressure. "There's a lot of pressure," he said. "As an individual, I set high standards for myself, and not having done well this series, there was that form of pressure as well. So there are various forms of pressure; captaincy is just one of them. But, like I mentioned, it is pressure I enjoy, and I'd like to enjoy it more in the future."
When Markram was handed the captaincy, there were obvious comparisons with Graeme Smith, who became captain at a similarly young age. Smith had a wealth of experience to fall back on when he became captain, whereas it will be fair to say that Markram has been let down by the performance of the seniors he was left with. However, Markram said they had been helpful to him with their experience.
"Plenty help to be fair," Markram said. "I'm constantly checking in with them. They also understand the space I'm in as a young captain. It's very nice to fall on them when I need to. Off the field as well. I know it might not reflect in our performances on the field, but in terms of getting me in a calmer space, a lot of credit must go to them."
Markram didn't expect it to be all rosy, especially given the circumstances under which the captaincy came to him in. He can't be sure that he will be in the next ODI side; if that doesn't happen, it will be unfair on the youngster, who said that despite all the challenges and adverse results, he was richer for the experience. "It was always going to be tough," Markram said. "It was something I was looking forward to, and a challenge that I enjoy. I can still say that sitting here having lost a series 5-1. It was a responsibility that I enjoy. I learned a lot, and at this stage of my career that's not a bad thing. Going forward, I'm going to take the lessons I did learn. The experience of dealing with other pressures grows me as a player."