Wednesday, April 17, 2024

SA20 League: Sunrisers Eastern Cape’s “Proper Leader”, Aiden Markram

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Photo Credit: SA20 League

During the drinks intervals at the ICC Men’s U19 World Cup that recently concluded, the television producers would link to a throwback called ‘Magic Moments’.

It was customarily a video clip showcasing a great feat from previous editions.

With the tournament being hosted in South Africa, they would often switch to a fresh-faced Aiden Markram, complete with a foldover hairstyle and all, lifting the trophy back in 2014 in Dubai.

It, of course, remains a seminal moment in South African cricket for Markram remains the only Proteas captain to raise an ICC World Cup trophy aloft.

For many years since that fateful day in the Arabian desert Markram has had to carry this weight of expectation though.

Many viewed him as “the next Graeme Smith”, in regards to being able to shoulder the burden of leadership along with performing the primary role of scoring the weight of runs to sit alongside the world’s elite batters.

It was the reason why former national convenor of selectors Linda Zondi unveiled Markram – still only 23 – as the interim Proteas ODI captain for a massive series against India back in 2018 after the youngster had only two international matches under his belt.

But not everyone possesses the broad shoulders of now Betway SA20 Commissioner Smith at such a tender age. The experiment proved to be a dismal failure, which not only set Markram back in terms of attaining further leadership positions, but dented his confidence with the willow in hand.

Fast forward a few winding years and Markram finds himself down in Gqeberha sitting alongside a campfire at his new Sunrisers Eastern Cape coach Adrian Birrell’s farm.

Markram had just been appointed captain of the new Eastern Cape franchise for the inaugural SA20 season. It is here where the two not only connected on cricket-minded things, but on a personal level too.

Now much more mature, Markram could fully appreciate Birrell’s all-inclusive management style that prioritised team ethos ahead of egos.

“He is a simple man that lives through great values. He sorts of sees us as his youngest sons and teaches us how to operate through life,” Markram said.

“He keeps reaffirming us of these values – whether we’re doing well or not – and reminding us that treating people properly is still the first and foremost thing to do. It certainly puts things into perspective for us.”

Equally, from being the youngster to now being one of the ‘ou boets’, Markram had new kids on the block such Tristan Stubbs and Marco Jansen looking up to him for guidance.

It is an environment that has brought out the best in Markram. He was back to his audacious stroke-making out in the middle. The confidence oozed through to his captaincy with the Sunrisers claiming the inaugural SA20 title under his leadership.

Markram was also rewarded with the Betway Player of the Season 1 prize.

But it was only the beginning of the accolades though. Markram’s destiny was finally fulfilled when he was named the official Proteas T20I captain shortly afterwards, followed with the leadership reins at Indian Premier League franchise Sunrisers Hyderabad.

Markram’s cup was running over now. More experienced, streetwise, and comfortable in his own skin, he returned to lead the Orange Army to back-to-back titles in SA20 Season 2 earlier this month.

It was a monumental effort. The Sunrisers soared to top of the log after the group stage before extending their winning streak with consecutive victories over the star-studded Durban’s Super Giants in both Qualifier 1 and grand finale at Newlands.

Many had viewed the Sunrisers’ Season 1 success as a fluke after they had sneaked into the playoffs. But this repeat act officially closed the debate to who the best side in the competition had been over the last two years.

But what exactly separates the Sunrisers from the other five franchises?

“Out on the field you fight like crazy to scrap for every little ball, save every run, dive for every catch, commit to every ball as a bowler, and after that it’s just cricket at the end of the day,” Markram explained.

It also takes a special leader to cultivate such a unique team ethic considering players join the franchise from all over the world. It requires a personality that enters the space willing to learn and take advice on board.

“Yeah, it’s been fantastic,” Markram said of his leadership role within the Sunrisers’ family.

“There is an opportunity to learn a lot in the last year or so that I have been captain.

“Obviously, you learn on the job and make the team a better place for everyone to enjoy themselves and be the better team on the field as well. Love the opportunity to be captain and the responsibilities that come with it…”

The final word on Markram has to be afforded to the Sunrisers aficionado Birrell though for nobody says it quite like the grand master.

Speaking in the Newlands changeroom after the final victory, which was filled not only with the players and support staff but also the families in true Sunrisers’ style, Birrell spoke from the heart.

“I’d just like to say to Aiden … you’re a proper leader!” he said.

“And we doff our cap to you. We’re very, very lucky to have you.”

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