Updated: January 8, 2022 7:57:45 am
“They do not seem to get me out when they hit me, so I guess they should stop hitting me.” If Dean Elgar’s words goad the Indian fast bowlers into bowling more bouncers at the South Africa captain in Cape Town, he won’t mind at all. For as he said after marshalling his team to a series-levelling seven-wicket win in Johannesburg, he actually thrives on the pain from all those blows.
“Some call it stupid, some call it brave. I like to see it as the latter.” Some in the outside world could continue to see it as the former, and Elgar couldn’t care less. But the skipper of this still inexperienced team finding its way in Test cricket will be satisfied if his team-mates see it as the latter, and show that they are also brave enough to follow his ways.
“If I am willing to put my body on the line so should everyone else in the team. Playing for your country, you are expected to do that irrespective of how you are feeling.”
That is what Elgar does every ball he faces in the middle. That is what Rassie van der Dussen did in perhaps the chase of his life in only his 12th Test match, gritting his way through adversity before hitting back with determination. Temba Bavuma took over after van der Dussen departed with 65 runs still needed, knowing there was no Quinton de Kock to back him up if he failed.
Who would have given this team a chance after the hammering they took at Centurion? The world was used to watching Hashim Amla, AB de Villiers and Faf du Plessis, and it suddenly had to adjust to — without any disrespect meant — the likes of van der Dussen and Keegan Petersen and Kyle Verreynne. Even de Kock slipped quietly into the sunset after Centurion. A team with rookie pacer Marco Jansen at No.7 was going to stop the world-conquering Indians from running away with the series at Wanderers? At a ground where no Indian team had ever lost?
In that sense, it was fitting that the winning runs came from the bat of Elgar, with the reassuring presence of Bavuma at the other end. The red-ball captain and the white-ball captain chipping away at the target together, and not leaving the mopping up for anyone else. As if to signal that there might be a long way to go yet for this team, but it is in safe hands.
After he whipped R Ashwin to the midwicket boundary in the evening gloom, Elgar banged his left glove onto the face of his bat a few times. Even in victory, the man was battering his own weapon, as if to keep it battle-ready for the series decider in the only way he knows.
“I had said to myself last night that I am going to be there at the end,” Elgar said. He was on 46 off 121 at stumps on the third evening, with South Africa having reached 118/2 and needing another 122.
They would see two sessions and more lost to a steady drizzle, and it would not be until more than an hour after the scheduled tea break that play would finally begin. A single session in a day is all the invitation fast bowlers need to go flat out, but then Elgar had also made that vow to himself to stay through it all until the very end. As he was to say later, there is no right or wrong way to win a game. His way is ugly, his way is painful, his way is unglamorous, but then, if you saw him hold back the emotion at the presentation, his way must also be making the win taste that much sweeter when it comes.
Elgar had hit all of two fours on the third day, and South Africa hadn’t seen a boundary for 106 balls. On the fourth day, van der Dussen took the attack to the Indians, and Elgar stood firm at the other end.
As his partner exited, the captain took charge. The Indians have become used to winning and do not take kindly to losing. There were plenty of verbals, especially from the likes of Mohammed Siraj and Shardul Thakur. At one point, the umpires and stand-in captain KL Rahul had to intervene. But Elgar was done absorbing punches, and was in the mood to punch back. “I am not going to keep quiet,” he said even as umpire Marais Erasmus smiled. Having resumed on 46 off 121, Elgar would take 50 off his next 67 balls, and hit eight fours on the day. Nothing extravagant, just those bottom-handed whips through midwicket and mid-on, or those guided dabs past gully and point. When he allowed the mood to get to him on the rare occasion, he would smack one over point or force it down the ground.
Of course, he kept getting beaten in between, the pitch was still doing plenty. A shrug of the head and he’d set himself up for the next one. He is looking for his hundred, Rishabh Pant would pipe up from behind the stumps. Fat chance he was. Cricketers keep saying that they do not play for personal landmarks in a team sport, but when it comes with the steely conviction of Dean Elgar’s voice, it is hard to believe otherwise.
Elgar would finish four runs short of what would have been his 14th Test hundred, and certainly one of his most memorable. It won’t matter to him. He knows that if the game starts to keep a tally of how many blows batters take, he will be near the top. Some call it bravery. Dean Elgar certainly does.