Don't want to be the guy who only does well at home - Markram

Aiden Markram gets forward to drive Getty Images

The first two years, more than any other time in a player's international career, is about proving you belong. This is true even if you have had a rocking start. In March, 23-year-old Aiden Markram faced down one of the best seam attacks in the world, on South African surfaces that amplified the bowlers' threat, and emerged - incredibly - the highest run-scorer in that four-Test series against Australia. And yet, although he has practically levitated into Sri Lanka on an average of 55.55, and with 1000 runs after 10 Tests, he felt he had more to prove. In his own words: "I don't want to be labelled as the guy who only does well in home conditions."

Part of the anxiety is down to inexperience. Not only has Markram only played Tests at home, he has not played so much as a first-class match in Asia. His only previous visit to Sri Lanka with a senior side was when South Africa's "Emerging Team" played three unofficial Tests on the island (these games did not have first-class status) in 2015. Markram's returns on that tour were modest - he made 179 in six innings, at an average of 29.83.

Perhaps, however, it is encouraging in a strange way that it is to the seamers that he most often lost his wicket on that tour. For a South Africa batsman, this is better than having been inept against spin. It is the slow bowling that he has worked on countering in the approach to this series.

"Any subcontinent conditions are going to be a very difficult challenge to South Africa," Markram said. "It's been winter back at home, and we have been trying to simulate the playing in conditions here, where the ball stays a bit lower. We get quite a bit of bounce back at home. The winter wickets at home tend to keep a lot lower than in summer, so that helped a bit. We batted in different creases and worn out tracks and tried to get some spin. We tried to make things as much as realistic as possible to simulate conditions here."

Markram and South Africa are doing their best to acclimatise in situ, having arrived early enough to play a two-day practice match in Colombo, ahead of the first Test. The President's XI side they face will include several players who are likely to be in Sri Lanka's Test side, including Angelo Mathews, Dhananjaya de Silva, and Roshen Silva. The Test bowlers, however, Sri Lanka have chosen to keep under wraps. Sri Lanka's general attitude regarding spinners is that they are agents of subterfuge, and so, the less the opposition sees of them, the bigger Sri Lanka's advantage. As usual, the hosts' pin many hopes on the wiles of 40-year-old Rangana Herath. Markram has never played him before.

"I'm looking forward to playing Herath," he said. "No idea what to expect and what the conditions are going to be. But he is a quality bowler. One of the best spinners in the world and it's going to be a great challenge. Hopefully, I will take something out of this series."

South Africa's most-recent tour of Sri Lanka, was a happy one; they won the first Test on the back of two outstanding reverse-swinging spells from Dale Steyn, then stonewalled for what seemed like a year to draw the second. Both South Africa batsmen who crossed triple figures in that series - Hashim Amla and Dean Elgar - are on this tour as well. For a first-tour newbie, the senior heads are a source of wisdom.

"Hashim is great value in the camp," Markram said. "A lot of experience and his calm nature rubs off a lot of players. Whenever he speaks it adds value to us. He has experienced these conditions before and he has experienced quite a bit of subcontinent conditions. He has been sharing a lot of knowledge with us. The position I am in - quite young and quite new -you try to get a lot from him."