Dean Elgar, the South African Test captain, had been no AB de Villiers or Faf du Plessis – nor even a Quinton de Kock. He is someone who would not have possibly become the Test captain if there wasn’t a leadership crisis in South African cricket of sorts but after an incredible 2-1 series win at the Newlands on Friday, the dour 34-year-old has become the captain the country had been looking for.
A small town product (Elgar comes from Welkom, a Free State mining town), the hard-nosed cricketer had been around in international cricket for close to a decade but has a cumulative experience of leading the country in just seven Tests - this now includes a Test series win against the No.1 Test playing nation. That too, with a team whose best batsman has just retired from the longest format of the game after a big loss in the first of three-Test series.
Looking back at a fascinating, albeit low-scoring series, it’s time to marvel how Elgar rallied his troops around with a side skewed in balance compared to the heavyweight Indian line-up. The only player from this side who could walk into a World XI of any sorts would be possibly Kagiso Rabada - but Elgar didn’t shy away from ‘talking’ to his express bowler and drill a sense of urgeny - something which saw the latter responding with a prompt three-wicket haul in the second Test.
If one looks around at an example of a team effort winning a Test series, South Africa’s effort will be right up there - with nuggets of impressive performance standing out (Rabada’s 20 wickets, Ngidi’s 15 and Marco Jansen’s 16, Keegan Peterson’s 82 in Cape Town) - but one cannot help but agree that Elgar was the glue to bind the team together. A left-arm opening batsman who believes in the virtues of putting a big price on his wicket, Elgar had set the tone with a defiant 77 he scored against India in the first Test in a losing cause while the epic, match-winning 96 which he scored at the Wanderers would rate as one of the best batting efforts by a South African in Tests.
An innings which spanned over five hours, which saw him taking several knocks on the body from Indian pace attack as he continued to grind his way to a challenging target of 241. The mission achieved, Elgar said in the virtual press conference that while some would consider his approach of putting one’s body on the line foolish but to him, it was a matter of national pride - words than can go a long way in galvanising a team as culturally diverse as South Africa.
“It’s not an easy journey being a Test captain but I think leadership comes extremely naturally to me,” Elgar had put his hand up in mid-2020 and his fulltime appointment was announced months later. It’s a responsibility which bigger names - with bigger equity in the world of franchise cricket - has stayed away from but he made no bones of wanting to grab the opportunity with both hands.
It’s common knowledge that South African cricket is not the easiest of places to lead a team. It’s often about race and politics - and the unsavoury instance of De Kock pulling out of their first game in the last T20 World Cup for refusing to take a knee as per Cricket South Africa’s directive - is still fresh in our minds.
There had been apparently an element of rancour at the elevation of Elgar - a white - to Test captaincy. All that will have to stop now after the Proteas’ series triumph!