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The rise of Dean Elgar

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Dean_Elgar_South_Africa_cricketDean Elgar’s name is rarely mentioned amongst the modern run-machines of South African cricket. Most of the attention is hogged by names like Jacques Kallis, Graeme Smith, AB de Villiers, Hashim Amla, Quinton de Kock and, more recently, the regular Test skipper Faf du Plessis. You could argue that this is also because of their exploits in the shorter formats of the game. However, the gritty opener’s recent run of form, combined with the unavailability of du Plessis, means that he will lead the Proteas in the first of four Test matches against England starting on July 6th.

Along with Hashim Amla, who has had a brief stint as skipper, the left-hander is one of the more established members of South Africa’s Test squad. What is more impressive is that his last three series have produced his three highest scores in Test cricket: 127 against Australia, 129 against Sri Lanka, and 140 against New Zealand. It is through analyzing these three knocks that we can truly appreciate how far he has come since registering a pair of ducks on his Test debut.

Perth, November 2016 - 127 (316)

Conditions were not in his favor. It was the third innings of the match. The pitch was littered with cracks and uneven bounce. When you add the Starc-Hazlewood opening pair to that equation, things hardly get easier. However, he blunted their new ball assault despite losing two partners in the process.

The score was 45-2 when JP Duminy walked in at number four, ahead of the more favoured Faf du Plessis. Elgar played second fiddle to his more aggressive partner, who enjoyed the luxury of flaying balls through the covers on the way to his first century since 2014.

Duminy could not have asked for a better foil at the other end as Elgar also displayed patience and proficiency when facing Nathan Lyon whose off-spinners were tailor-made for the cracks that were widened by the unforgiving Western Australian heat.  

Elgar was eventually dismissed with the score at 324-4 with South Africa 322 runs ahead of hosts too fatigued to stop Vernon Philander and Keshav Maharaj from putting on a game-ending 72-run partnership. South Africa went onto win by 177 runs and took a 1-0 lead in a series they eventually won 2-1.

Cape Town, January 2017 - 129 (230)

Elgar built on his reputation of seeing out tough phases with what was, at the time, his new highest score. His technique was tested on a fresh green top against a determined Sri Lankan bowling attack that included spirited debutant Lahiru Kumara. Moreover, in uncharacteristic fashion, he scored the lion’s share of the runs before belligerent centurion Quinton de Kock arrived at the crease, at which point he realized the team would be best served by a supporting knock.

It was an aesthetically pleasing innings that was highlighted by tucks off his pads, picture perfect on drives, and straight drives that split mid-on and mid-off. South Africa ended with an imposing total of 392, which was too much for a brittle opposition batting line-up to chase down. Two more half-centuries during the 3-0 series triumph earned him his first ever Man-of-the-Series award.

Dunedin, March 2017 - 140 (299)

Another century and a new high score for Elgar came on an uncharacteristically dry Dunedin strip that urged the Kiwi’s to play two spinners at the expense of Vice Captain Tim Southee, that too in home conditions. Jeetan Patel was on to bowl in the sixth over enjoying the combination of variable bounce and turn.

Elgar was not having any of it, playing inside the line of the ball. As if that was not enough, he was sledged by Neil Wagner, his old foe from the South African school scene, a Dunedin crowd who claimed the convert as their own, and even Trent Boult, who had a catch dropped off his bowling.

None of these challenges stopped Elgar from scoring 128 out of the visitors’ 229 runs on the opening day. He followed this up with 89 in South Africa’s second innings. Although Elgar was awarded with his first Man-of-the-Match award, the final day of this intriguing encounter was washed out. South Africa ended up winning the series 1-0.  

Can Elgar go one step further?

The recent trend of increasingly high scores would suggest that Elgar is due for an even higher score, which is needed if he is to be considered one of South Africa’s finest batsmen in the format. He is already their best opener and with the added responsibility of captaincy, he has the opportunity to lead from the front and build on South Africa’s impressive triumphs on the tours to Australia and New Zealand.  

If Elgar’s leadership proves to be as gritty as his batting he could help Proteas fans forget another premature exit at a global tournament and inch closer to the coveted number one Test ranking. 

 

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Jay Dansinghani is a freelance writer, researcher, and author based in Hong Kong. Jay got into deep...

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