Dean Elgar stood tall in pursuit of 492 vs England    Getty Images
Dean Elgar stood tall in pursuit of 492 vs England Getty Images

 

Many believed that if there is one team capable of battling it out for five sessions to salvage a draw in pursuit of 492, it is South Africa. The men from Africa have, in the past, shown their ability (or as the campaigns say, Protea Fire) and have batted for hours and hours to save a Test. When they commenced the final innings against England at The Oval, there was some hope. After all, the likes of Hashim Amla, Faf du Plessis and Quinton de Kock cannot be pushed aside with ease. However, the top-order fell apart like pack of cards with one full day in hand. The onus fell on Dean Elgar, coming on the back of a decent run for Somerset. He was also the second-highest run-getter for South Africa during their 0-3 drubbing versus India in 2015. Like always, Elgar was up for the challenge.

The Elgar approach

More often than not, a batsman s approach is taken into account when he sweats it out in the middle. Elgar scored full marks in this aspect. He was determined on not throwing his scalp and putting a price on his wicket from the moment he took guard.

The one startling feature about of Elgar s 136 was he did everything required for the team s cause. He hurt his fingers while bowling and took more blows with the willow. He did this being unbridled as ever. Indeed, his was a resilient approach. Who knows, had he got more company from the other end, England would not have managed to get him out of the way. Elgar batted for more than 6 hours, a significant feat in modern-day era wherein batsmen look to score freely.

I prefer not getting hit, to be honest, but you have to take the blows. It puts me in a different mindset. It s like the challenge is a little bit more. I guess only an opening batsman could see it that way , Elgar told ESPNCricinfo.

No, he was not defensive!

Elgar was not on a blockathon. He batted for more than two sessions but kept the scoreboard ticking. Striking at 59.65 in whites cannot be termed slow . His 136 included 20 fours (in other words, 58.82 per cent of his runs came in boundaries).

Amla could have taken a leaf out of Elgar s book. Amla normally shuffles across the stumps while batting. He does so to execute those exquisite drives and flicks. However, he was stuck on the crease in the second outing. He probably did this as he was determined to defend almost everything thrown at him. To his dismay, he was caught in two minds whether to play or leave one from Toby Roland-Jones and was caught at slips.

Elgar, on the other hand, demonstrated how important it is to keep the scoreboard dynamic. One incident from the 43rd over, bowled by Ben Stokes, stands out.

Stokes pitched one short. Elgar, predominantly a back-foot player, read the length early and pulled him for four. Stokes, like most pacers, resorted to another short delivery. Elgar responded again, earning another four through square leg. As a result, Stokes had to alter his length. The next ball was a tad fuller.

Technique is not everything

Experts earn a living by explaining various technical aspects of the game. While that is important, it is not the most important aspect of batting. In the end, a player s temperament is put to test the most. Elgar did not look convincing throughout his stay, but remained unfazed by his weaknesses. He edged a few, looked unattractive in some of his drives but moved onto the next delivery quickly.

Elgar was not entirely potent in the second innings at Trent Bridge. Nonetheless, what mattered is that he applied for long and scored a gritty 80.

Shots in his arsenal and scoring ways

It wasn t easy. Roland-Jones in-swingers, Stokes variations, James Anderson s discipline and Moeen Ali s knack of producing things kept South Africans at bay. Elgar rose to the challenge. He battled hard. He hooked, pulled and punched, and timed his cuts superbly. He was cautious against the pacers and played with soft bottom-hand to negate the edges from carrying.

As he moved ahead Elgar grew in confidence. He shuffled to create more space for the flicks and even played from outside the crease to tackle the awkward bounce.

Platform for the finale?

Our batters can learn from Elgar. As Test batsmen, we have to score hundreds. Amazing knock from Dean today, showed us what we needed to do here , said du Plessis in the post-match presentation.

Elgar has certainly laid the platform for his side ahead of the decider at Old Trafford. He has so far scored 762 runs in 8 Tests with 3 hundreds in 2017, averaging 50.50. Will South Africa cash on his relentless form to level the series? The answers will be known by August first week.

There were many top performers in the Centenary Test at The Oval. Most of these were England cricketers. However, Elgar s knock deserves special place for his unmatched efforts. After all, it is not easy to stand tall with your team in disarray.