Dean Elgar has proved why he belongs at the top of the order while Alviro Petersen has failed to make this golden opportunity count.
Before the start of the Test series against the West Indies, I asked a former Proteas cricketer how he felt about Elgar and Petersen opening the batting. His response put the situation into perspective. ‘Who else is there?’ he said with a shrug. ‘There isn’t anybody more deserving at the moment.’
Two Tests on, and it’s clear that he was right about that, at least in the case of Elgar. The gritty left-handed batsman did well in challenging conditions at Centurion. Elgar saw off the new ball once again at St George’s Park, and then batted on to score an important century.
While it wasn’t the most fluent innings, and there were times when he failed to move his feet and played away from his body, Elgar certainly improved on his performance at Centurion. And if you look at where he was when he first debuted, the 27-year-old has come a long way.
The fact that he’s scored three Test centuries to date should encourage the Proteas selectors. He has strengthened his case for a permanent position at the top of the order. Whether there are other candidates or not, Elgar must be backed over the next year or so, as he evidently has the temperament to play some game-shaping knocks for his team.
Former Proteas batsman Graeme Pollock wrote on SACricketmag.co.za recently that Quinton de Kock deserves a chance at the top of the order. Pollock may have changed his mind about Elgar following the recent showings at Centurion and St George’s Park, but Petersen has given him no cause to do so. Whether De Kock is the best man to fill the slot is debatable, but Pollock is right in asserting that the Proteas deserve better and Petersen has had enough chances.
While Petersen was under pressure from the start of this series, the stage was certainly set for an emphatic response. South Africa were up against the West Indies, a team ranked eighth in the world. Conditions may not have been ideal for batting at Centurion or St George’s Park, but Petersen should have contributed more than 27 and 17 (in the first innings) respectively. He missed a golden opportunity to cash in against some mediocre bowling. At the time of writing, Peterson has gone nine innings without a 50, and 25 without a century.
Pollock believes De Kock deserves an opportunity at the top of the order sooner rather than later. There is, however, another man who could be the solution.
JP Duminy was ruled out before the series started, and this has proved to be a blessing in disguise for the Proteas. It’s forced the selectors to pick Stiaan van Zyl in the middle order. Van Zyl usually bats in the top order for the Cobras, and has said that he hopes to bat in a similar position for the Proteas in future.
Van Zyl scored a century on Test debut at Centurion, and then followed that up with a knock of 29 in the first innings at St George’s Park. Like Elgar, he has shown that he has the temperament as well as the technique to be a success at this level, and that he is worth investing in.
The selectors are likely to give Petersen another chance in the third Test at Newlands, but it will be interesting to see what they do when Duminy is once again available for Test duty. Duminy will return to the middle order, and Quinton de Kock is another must-pick once he has recovered from his own ankle ailment.
Neither Elgar nor Van Zyl deserve to be dropped, and perhaps the best way forward is to back the pair as an opening combination. Petersen has had chance after chance, and it’s time for him and South Africa to move on.