Dean Elgar has to fire for South Africa to stand any chance of claiming a third-successive Test series win in England.
‘A lot of people will see us as the underdogs going into this series against England,’ Elgar told me in a recent interview for SA Cricket magazine. ‘There’s bound to be a lot of pressure on guys like me at the top of the order. That’s what you want, though, to be tested in that manner.’
Elgar spoke at length about his role as an opening batsman. He talked about how he had been given more responsibility as a senior player in the buildup to the 2016-17 season, and how that had influenced his approach in the series against Australia, Sri Lanka, and New Zealand. Elgar scored 753 runs across the 10 Tests at an average of 44.29.
Elgar then opted to play for Somerset in the lead-up to the biggest Test series of the English summer. He spoke of difficult conditions and how a stint with a county side had prepared him for the greater challenges to come in the four Tests against England.
Elgar scored 517 runs in six first-class matches for Somerset, a record that included two centuries and a top score of 158. It bodes well for South Africa that their premier opening batsman has found form in English conditions.
That said, the pressure on Elgar to succeed in the first Test is going to be immense. Elgar will need to make a big contribution in his first Test in English conditions. He will also need to help new opening partner and debutant Heino Kuhn adjust to the rigours of the five-day game.
As if the burden wasn’t great enough, Elgar will be tasked with leading the side at Lord’s in the absence of regular skipper Faf du Plessis. Quinton de Kock, Elgar, and Du Plessis were South Africa’s top performers with the bat last season, with the latter two playing some especially important innings under pressure.
More will be expected of Hashim Amla in the series against England. The likes of Elgar cannot do the job on their own.
The Proteas will be chasing their third-straight series win in England. Graeme Smith’s side won 2-1 in the four-match series in 2008, and 2-0 in the three-game affair in 2012.
Does this South African side have what it takes to win the upcoming four-Test series and edge closer to the No 1 ranking?
They should be looking to make a statement with their batting. The stats of the past two tours show how South Africa have relied on their batsmen, especially those in the top- and middle- order, to set them up for victory.
While there’s little doubt that bowlers like Dale Steyn played crucial roles in those series – or that Morné Morkel, Vernon Philander, and Kagiso Rabada will be similarly important for South Africa over the next two months – much of the credit rightly went to Smith, Amla, Jacques Kallis, and several others in the aftermath.
In 2008, three of the top run-scorers in the four-game series were South African. AB de Villiers top-scored for the tourists (384 runs at an average of 64), followed by Smith (369 at 61.50) and Neil McKenzie (339 at 48.42).
Across the series, Smith and McKenzie put on 50 or more for the first wicket on four occasions, their partnership of 204 in the second innings of the first Test being the highlight.
In 2012, as many as four South Africans featured in the top-five run scorers for the three-Test series. Amla was the best of the lot (482 runs at an average of 120.50). Smith was third on the list (272 at 54.40), followed by Kallis (262 at 65.50) and Alviro Petersen (244 at 61).
Smith and Petersen failed as a combination in the first innings of the first Test (1), but South Africa still managed to muscle their way to 637-2 declared, thanks to Smith (131), Amla (311), and Kallis (182). Smith and Petersen put on 120 for the first wicket in the first innings in the second Test.
Smith and Jacques Rudolph opened in the second innings and steered South Africa to 120 once more.
Elgar has the attitude to be a success in England, to play the role that Smith played for the Proteas on the successful tours of 2008 and 2012. Based on Elgar’s recent Test performances, and based on his recent showings for Somerset on the English country circuit, one would expect him to be South Africa’s go-to batsman in the coming series.
That said, it remains to be seen how Elgar will perform alongside yet another opening partner – he’s already had seven different partners since February 2014 – and how he will adjust to the new responsibility of leading the side. With Du Plessis unavailable, the Proteas will go into the first match with one less ‘fighter’ in their batting order. That, in turn, will heap the pressure on Elgar to succeed at the top.
Photo: Samuel Shivambu/BackpagePix