The Proteas selectors recently revealed their World Cup squad after a successful home season. There were a few surprises in the group. There is only one major dilemma: who will open the innings with Quinton de Kock? Will it be the experienced Hashim Amla or the talented Aiden Markram?
This position is an important one. The openers will be expected to score runs in order to post a competitive total for their bowlers to defend. But only one of Amla and Markram can play.
Let’s start first with Amla. If statistics alone told the story, he would be the first name to be put on paper. He has amassed 7910 runs in 174 ODI matches at an average of 49.74, with 27 centuries.
The 36-year-old has been a pillar of the side’s batting for long now, the batsman who they can depend on to get a big score. There are a few chinks in his armour though. Usually, the balls on his legs are whipped across to the mid-wicket boundary. But his strong-point can also be his weakness. Amla looked prone to LBWs and getting out bowled during a 2018 that he will want to forget.
He could only score 315 runs in 11 ODI innings (with an average of 28.6).
Move on to 2019. In March and April, he went to play for the Cobras in an effort to regain his form for the World Cup. In his first match, the top-order batsman scored 10 runs. In the CSA T20 Challenge, he scored a paltry 92 runs from eight matches, before leaving the Cobras in order to work on technical issues before the showpiece in England.
His main rival, Aiden Markram, is in a completely different situation. He is inexperienced and has only featured in 18 ODIs for the Proteas. But it would be foolish to ignore the stack of runs he has scored in recent months.
Markram was dropped for the 5-match ODI series versus Pakistan in January after an underwhelming start to his career (his average is only 29.58). It seemed the doors had shut on his chances for World Cup selection.
Instead, the 24-year-old forced his way back into contention with consistent performances on the domestic circuit and in English county cricket.
In the Momentum One-Day Cup in March, he single-handedly dominated the tournament, smashing 542 runs in 5 innings, including a match-winning 169 against the Cobras. Then in May, Markram played for Hampshire in 10 matches, scoring a century and four half-centuries.
The Proteas need in-form batsmen during the tournament who are going to win them the tournament. Hoping Amla salvages some form during it, is a high-risk strategy that may fail.
It would be harsh to ignore Markram, who is in superb form at the moment. There are plenty of experienced players (Faf du Plessis, JP Duminy, David Miller and Dale Steyn, etc) to help him on his way. Moreover, giving Markram a chance may do wonders for his development.