Given arguably the hardest job in Test cricket – that of opener in South African conditions – Dean Elgar has forged a reputation as a batsman of extremely durable disposition. His fifty against a bristling Pakistan seam attack – albeit missing Mohammad Abbas’ wiles – on a variegated, helpful Centurion track was vital in setting up South Africa’s 1-0 series lead, but Elgar admitted that despite a target of 149, the chase “could have gone either way”.
“Fortune was on our side,” he said after a 119-run stand with Hashim Amla that had to endure several moments of alarm. “We mentioned it yesterday, while we were fielding, that we need so much luck in this game actually. The wicket has obviously had a lot of favour for the bowlers, and as a batting unit you just needed something to go your way.
Elgar was the recipient of the most opinion-splitting call of the game when he edged Shaheeh Afridi low to Azhar Ali’s right at first slip, only for the on-field umpire’s soft signal of ‘out’ to be overturned by TV umpire Joel Wilson when replays appeared to show the ball in contact with the ground. Or not, depending on your point of view.
“I think I give the bowlers a lot of false hope, and they’re like ‘I’m in here with Elgar, I can get him out’. Obviously I proved them wrong”
“You don’t see a lot when you turn around,” he said. “At first glance, you go on the [fielders’] reaction. The umpires obviously have the final say. Well, the third umpire did. It’s out of my hands. I don’t make any decisions. You’ve got to trust the people in power to make the right calls. And you need a bit of luck to go your way. Thankfully it went our way, and now we’re sitting here at 1-0 going to Cape Town.”
Elgar eventually found his groove and even added a little adventure to his knock with a loft straight back over the bowler Hasan Ali’s head to move through the 40s. But it was never easy.
“They need to triple my salary, and Aiden’s as well, because it’s hard work in South Africa.” he joked “It’s definitely the toughest place in the world to bat, I can vouch for that now. But that’s what makes the job so satisfying once you get through the tough times. You look back at those tough times and you really enjoy them. The beer tastes a lot better, I can tell you that. It’s very rewarding when you get through those tough times.”
As well as being tested outside off stump, Elgar was struck several times on the arm and body as he fended at rising deliveries from Pakistan’s quicks. After he was dismissed, he watched the proceedings with an ice-pack on his arm – though he may have swapped that for a cold drink once the game was won.
“I might have an armguard for the next game. We’ll just have to see what the wicket’s going to play like. But it’s ok. I’ve been hit there many a time in my career, and it’s never pleasant. I know the guys in the changeroom appreciate the work I do, and that makes it heal a little easier. And it’s always nice to ice it with a nice cold beer knowing that we’ve won the game.”
Elgar’s sentiments were echoed by captain Faf du Plessis, who argued that seam-friendly wickets ultimately suit a South African team richly blessed with fast bowlers. “We understand that home conditions are not perfect for batting,” he said. “The wickets that we want to play on are wickets that assist our seam bowling attack. We’ve got the best bowling attack, statistically, in the world, so it would be stupid not to try and make use of that. If that makes life tough for us as batters, and it’s a little harder to score runs, as long as we’re winning games I’ll definitely smile at the end of it.”
“We’ve got the best bowling attack, statistically, in the world, so it would be stupid not to try and make use of that”
Faf du Plessis on South Africa’s pitches
“I think I make it look a lot tougher,” Elgar added. “I think I give the bowlers a lot of false hope, and they’re like ‘I’m in here with Elgar, I can get him out’. Obviously I proved them wrong. But it was tough. Pakistan have really brought some very good seamers. It was hard work. It was right up there as another tough but satisfying and successful day for us. But yeah, it could be a lot easier for us if we go with better batting wickets, which I doubt is going to happen.”
Despite his bruises, Elgar also managed a smile during a light-hearted post-match press conference. He has ended the year rather similar to the way he started it against India in January, when he carried his bat on a very testing track at the Wanderers. Elgar suggested that surviving that experience helped him here, but insisted “they’re all tough”, and that the final result made all the difference to him.
“Either way, they’re all tough,” he said. “I’d rather bat on this wicket because we won, and that wicket at Wanderers we lost. Different scenarios, but all mightily challenging. But there’s always a rainbow somewhere. The Wanderers experience has potentially helped me through this one.”