Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent
A Test debut in Potchefstoom against Bangladesh is not exactly the stuff dreams are made of, but for Aiden Markram it will be. Not only will Markram have the opportunity to establish himself as a long-term option at the top of the order, but the series could be the start of what many believe will be Markram's journey to the Test leadership.
"There is absolutely no doubt that he is the future. None at all. He is the complete package," Shukri Conrad, South Africa's National Academy coach told ESPNcricinfo. "It's not a case of if, it's about when he takes over. Aiden has had the apprenticeship. Leaders are just born and he is a leader."
Markram captained the South Africa Under-19 side to a World Cup win in 2014, and has since led the A side in series in England and at home against India. Conrad was coach of the A side for those matches and was immediately impressed. "Aiden is a very smart guy in terms of summing up environments without imposing himself on the situation. People gravitate towards him without him going and looking for it so he has an ability to lead without trying too hard," Conrad said. "As the season went on, he grew constantly. On the tactical side, he will develop. He is not scared to ask the thoughts of senior players and even more junior ones. People have seen what he can do."
Among those people is Mark Boucher, the Titans coach. Last week, Markram was made his franchise's first-class captain and this week led a side that included current Test captain Faf du Plessis and four other internationals in their season-opener against the Dolphins. Markram was the standout performer, with scores of 119 and 87, which ultimately propelled him into the Test side.
Markram's performance on captaincy debut has drawn comparison with another player who was 22 when he was put in charge: Graeme Smith.
Smith had only captained sporadically - Western Province twice, South Africa A three times - before he was thrust into the international job, which he handled with a mixture of brashness and bravery. Markram has already had more experience leading and will likely play for at least two years before du Plessis' proposed swansong in 2019.
Conrad believes that when the time comes, Markram will be more than ready. "Dare I say it, he is almost more mature than Graeme was," Conrad said. "Graeme was very out there and led from the front. Aiden can play that role, but he can also take a step back. He has the same steely and tough character. I think he will make the transition a lot easier than Graeme did. He is well-liked without being buddy-buddy and honest as the day is long."
For now, all Markram needs to concentrate on is scoring runs, which he has done plenty of recently. Over the winter, he struck a century against Hampshire on an otherwise woeful tour for South Africa A and notched up two scores in the 70s at home against India A. He also raised his bat to a century in a List A friendly against the Lions before his performance in the first-class arena.
Markram has made his name as both quick-scoring and big-scoring and Conrad expects him to prove that again when he takes on Bangladesh. "He is a high-class batsman. He is naturally aggressive and he likes to take the game forward. And he piles it on. It's not just a 100 and out, he likes to make big runs. I would pay money to watch him bat."
For all his praise for Markram, Conrad had a word of warning. "We mustn't think he is no going to make mistakes," he said. "There will be times when he gives it away but I hope he gets a good long run because he is a class act."
South Africa have 10 Tests this summer - pending ICC approval for the four-day day-night game against Zimbabwe in Port Elizabeth - which should afford Markram plenty of opportunity to show what he can do and to allow him to improve. His opposition will include two subcontinent teams in Bangladesh and India, against whom he could face a slew of spin, the one area where Conrad thinks Makram has work to do.
"His game is evolving and he will be the first to say that spin is the one area in which it could get better. That's the case for many of our international batsmen. He is open to advice and smart enough to learn from it."
Markram and Theunis de Bruyn, who is also in the Test squad, were part of CSA's annual spin camp. The next few weeks will prove how much they learned. And, in Markram's case, how much of a leader he can be.