After many feared the loss of Graeme Smith would leave a gaping hole at the top of the order, it was edifying to see Dean Elgar score a ton in the first Test.
As far as votes of confidence go, they don’t get much clearer than your new Test skipper putting you in to bat on the first morning of a Test series.
While the decision to bat in the first Test was a no-brainer, it still would have been seen by the new opening pair of Alviro Petersen and Dean Elgar as a show of faith in their new partnership. And boy was the faith that Amla put in them repaid, particularly by Elgar.
Elgar would have wanted to prove that he belonged at the top of the order, after yo-yoing up and down the line-up in his previous nine Tests. In his 10 Tests he has batted in four different positions. But based on his performance today, he won’t be moving anywhere soon.
But let’s go back to the beginning of the first Test, on Wednesday morning. There was an air of uncertainty about the new openers. Petersen has struggled for consistency throughout his career, often getting starts but not going on to post big scores, while Elgar was coming off a long winter break (his last first-class game before the first Test was in April). The fear was that one of the pair would get out early.
An hour into the day, and that fear had evaporated. For a fan base accustomed to seeing the Proteas one down within the first 10 overs in recent Tests (the highest opening partnership in the Test series against Australia was 20), there was already reason to celebrate. The pair had passed the 50-run mark by that time, and looked well on their way to setting up a large first-innings total.
When Petersen fell to a marginal lbw call in the 17th over, the platform created by the 70-run opening stand allowed newly promoted No 3 Faf du Plessis time to play himself in. He knew Elgar was set at the other end, and he could rely on the left-hander to rotate the strike as needed.
The cherry on the top for the first day was seeing Elgar take his chance with both hands, scoring his second Test century, and first from the top of the order.
After watching Graeme Smith’s struggles last season it was incredibly satisfying to see another left-handed opening batsman with a less-than-perfect technique score runs.
Elgar slotted in to the opening berth with ease, and he must be backed in the position until the end of the West Indies series in December.
If Petersen can find some consistency and turn a few good starts into big totals, then the opening partnership could be very productive for the Proteas in the coming months.
It’s early days yet, but the first innings of the first Test will have put to rest some of the fears surrounding the void left by Graeme Smith.
Photo: Anne Laing/HSM Images