It has been more than nine years since Aiden Markram captained South Africa's Under-19 side to victory at the World Cup, and more than five since he led the senior side in five of the six ODIs they played in a marathon series against India. Those were tasters of what seemed to be Markram's birthright as skipper of South Africa's men's national team, and they gave him opposite experiences of what the role would ultimately entail.
His U-19 experience was successful and fun. "Everyone just wanted to play and you just had to make sure the team was getting on and guys understood their roles and that was pretty much as simple as it was," Markram said at a press conference on the eve of the first T20I against West Indies.
The ODI experience was chastening, for both the team and for him. South Africa lost the series 5-1. Markram's top-score was 32. He was dropped from the side shortly after and was bitterly disappointed with how things had gone because he expected much more from himself. "I was quite fresh back at that young age, I was quite hard on myself," he said. "I always wanted to do well and we know that in sport, it doesn't always work out that way."
In between that, Markram was led by Faf du Plessis, Quinton de Kock, Temba Bavuma and Dean Elgar at national level; by Sam Northeast at Hampshire and by Kane Williamson and KL Rahul at the IPL. Of those, du Plessis made the biggest impression. "How Faf managed to marshal his troops was something I really looked up to and something I strive to become. I've learnt a lot from him - probably without him knowing - just observing from the side," Markram said. "The years of being in this environment has helped. We've had some great leaders around, so to sponge information off them and see how they operate has also shaped the way I am starting to think as well."
Now, after cutting the last of his teeth at Sunrisers Eastern Cape, the team he led to the inaugural SA20 title, Markram is finally, really ready to fulfil what many thought was his destiny. He has been named South Africa's new, permanent T20I captain and begins his tenure with a three-match series against West Indies this weekend.
As far as challenges go, although playing the former world champions always asks questions of a team, there is not much in the way of consequence for Markram's inaugural outing. It's not a T20 World Cup year, so the squad does not need to stack up a string of good results for anything other than pride and putting in place a few foundation stones for his tenure. Still there is excitement in the air. "West Indies are a great team to be able to test our skills against, see where we are with regards to our T20 side," Markram said.
South Africa have already had their high this year. Their franchise T20 tournament was played to mostly sold-out crowds, and even better than that, their women's team made it to the T20 World Cup final. "We are almost seeing it as them setting the standard, and it's something for us to chase," Markram said. "They've inspired us to try and get there as well."
But there's no expectation on the men's team to reach those heights anytime soon. South Africa aren't yet sure of a place in the 2023 ODI World Cup. Their set up, led by white-ball coach Rob Walter, are focused on 2027. By then, Markram will be 32 and there is a strong chance he will be captaining his team in a home World Cup.
Before getting there, he will first need to accumulate a wealth of knowledge and maybe take some of his own advice as well. "You have to learn to take things in your stride," Markram said. "You have to try to take performances and outcomes out of things and focus on the things that give you the best chance to succeed on the day, whether it works or not. Those things have helped me so far."