While Faf du Plessis should be named the T20 International Cricketer of the Year and AB de Villiers and Imran Tahir are ostensibly the frontrunners for the ODI Cricketer of the Year accolade, the Test Cricketer of the Year category promises due reward for Dean Elgar.
Elgar is in competition with Hashim Amla and Dale Steyn for the prestigious award – and the least prominent of the three is the most deserving.
De Villiers and, more recently, Quinton de Kock, have afforded the Proteas near seamless replacement of Mark Boucher. Jacques Kallis’ successor is, admittedly, less obvious – and Alviro Petersen’s heir is probably Stiaan van Zyl – if not Reeza Hendricks. Elgar, meanwhile, has quickly and confidently filled the gap left by Graeme Smith’s exit.
Elgar, fittingly, started and ended his stint in the Test match middle order with ducks. Positions six, seven and three were never ideal for the steely left-hander. He averaged a mere 29.55 in his first nine matches – but has pushed that close to 50 in six Tests since moving to the top of the order.
The 27-year-old has largely been spared the unimportance of limited-overs cricket. He has, in fact, not played an ODI in almost three years. This period must be extended. Cricket South Africa must not hesitate to, more or less, pigeonhole Elgar as a Test cricketer. They’ve tried to work Philander into ODI cricket, unsuccessfully. Elgar should be spared similar, unnecessary treatment.
Affording him the time and grace to fortify a very key position in the batting order on the biggest stage – Test match cricket – is substantially more significant than the short-term need for some cameos in ODI competition.
A recent move from the Knights to the Titans has allowed Elgar plenty space to thrive. ‘It was a big career decision, but it was the best move of my life and I should have done it two years ago. It has been a great transition and I have become a better player and person for it,’ Elgar told the Citizen.
He, too, was deemed surplus to requirements at the Indian Premier League player auction this year. The snub isn’t lucrative financially, but has allowed for stronger preparation ahead of July’s tour of Bangladesh. ‘Momentum is on my side, but I need to prepare well because it is always a big series on the sub-continent. It will be a tough mental challenge, but I think I’ve stepped up mentally over the last year,’ he added.
His role as a mentor to van Zyl and Hendricks during the tour of Bangladesh will be pivotal, ahead of December and January’s more challenging series against England. Complementing this authority with the Test Cricketer of the Year award at Wednesday’s prestigious prize giving is entirely appropriate.