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Markram, De Zorzi give South Africa the edge

Markram, De Zorzi give South Africa the edge

Markram, De Zorzi give South Africa the edge

Viv Richards knows how Aiden Markram feels. So do Sachin Tendulkar, Brian Lara, Ian Chappell, Sunil Gavaskar, Hashim Amla, Ricky Ponting, Virat Kohli, Inzamam-ul-Haq, and Quinton de Kock. Steve Waugh knew three times.

As in, get out for 96. Going into the second Test between South Africa and West Indies at the Wanderers on Tuesday, 100,109 individual innings had been played - of which 103 were ended four runs short of a century. An hour after lunch, when he top-edged a sweep off Gudakesh Motie and blooped a catch to short fine leg, Markram became the 104th member of the club. Call them the 0.103886763427864 percenters.

Markram's shot was one of the few he played that could not be called bona fide beautiful. His off drive, in particular, shimmered with grace. He arrested it the instant ball left bat, freezing all movement as his chin stayed tucked and his elbow akimbo, and granting the face of his acutely angled blade leave to catch the sunlight.

Pitifully few spectators were on hand to see him reel off exemplar after exemplar. There were 1,094 in the ground when the first ball was bowled, 1,372 after the first hour, and 1,476 when Markram reached 50 before lunch with that copperplate drive, off Roston Chase. All around the Wanderers, Johannesburg buzzed about its business, too busy to come to the cricket on a working weekday even to watch South Africa dominate.

The West Indians, promisingly plucky in the first Test in Centurion last week, were as flat as a beer left in the sun. They wasted the new ball, lacked presence in the field and failed to come to terms with a pitch that started out docile before hardening and offering movement and even a touch of turn. The lack of tension seemed to take its toll on the South Africans, who were 247/2 at tea but then lost 5/64 to stumble to 311/7 at stumps.

Markram shared stands of 76 with Dean Elgar and 116 with Tony de Zorzi, who appeared bound for a century himself before he was bowled off the outside edge by Motie midway through the third session. De Zorzi's 85 was also blessed with drives on the off side, but he finished them with a flourish Markram didn't entertain. That articulation followed De Zorzi into his press conference.

"Dean [Elgar] and Aiden gave us a nice base, so it was easier to come in at No. 3 and play the way I did," he said. "When we started it was a bit soft; there was moisture in the pitch. After lunch it started quickening up. Towards the end of the day the nicks were carrying."

De Zorzi spent not quite two hours scoring 28 and nought on debut in Centurion, which he followed with two hours in the middle at the Wanderers on Wednesday. The experience had taught him something: "Once you get here you want to stay here."

It's been a long road. De Zorzi, who was raised by a single mother, Natasha, captained South Africa's under-19 team in 2016 but didn't immediately make the leap to the rarefied levels. "I had to go back to club cricket and start again; it's been a process," he said. "I'm happy that it's led to this. But it's also a reminder of where I come from, and not to get ahead of myself. I've had to do a lot of dirty work to get there."

His mother was in the stands on Wednesday to support him. So were others: "There were a couple of my friends here - and some people who claimed to be my friends but I've never met them - and it's always nice to have my mom watching. I'm in Cape Town, so she hasn't been able to watch a lot of the games. Hopefully next time she comes I can get three figures."

De Zorzi played 54 first-class matches for two franchises at opposite ends of South Africa before he cracked the Test nod. In his seven seasons he has averaged above 45.00 four times, three times 50.00 or more. Did he wonder if he would ever be noticed?

"There were definitely moments when you might get impatient, but I've played with a lot of senior guys," De Zorzi said. "You hear some of their stories and it gives you a reality check. You might be impatient, but there were guys averaging 40 or 50 in an era when they just never got a chance. You might feel aggrieved but you have no right to. You just have to wait for your chance, and when you get it hopefully you can take it."

Two of those people are Andrew Puttick, who averaged 40.27 in 173 first-class matches but played no Tests and a solitary ODI, and Pieter Malan, who has three Test caps to go with his 179 first-class matches, in which he averages 45.31. Have they had their rightful chances? Who can say, but we do know that De Zorzi has, and is taking them.

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