Minutes after he led South Africa to a memorable triumph over England at Lord’s in just six sessions of play, Dean Elgar wondered about England’s non-existent resistance. “This game ended quickly. We thought they [England] would fight back hard.”
Elgar likes to talk big, loves to walk that talk, and rarely ever holds back on cricketing topics. Like the ICC’s FTP calendar which only gives 28 Tests to South Africa, a team with splendid bowling attack and batsmen seemingly finding their feet at this level, over the next four years.
“I guess we could be playing more,” said Elgar. “It’s a sad thing but so be it. I can’t say too much about that because I might get into trouble.”
The South African statistician Andrew Samson would spell it out more with a tweet. ““Rabada takes 4.7 wickets per Test on average. At that rate he will need 41 more Tests to pass Steyn.
SA has another 35 scheduled Tests in the FTP when Rabada will be 32. It won’t be easy with so few Tests available.”
South Africa have shown priority to their new T20 franchise league over Tests, which has been reflected in their FTP. “We know that you need to play a minimum of two Tests in a series for the World Test Championship and so that’s what we’ve done. We also have to be honest that hosting Tests costs us money,” Cricket South Africa’s CEO Pholetsi Moseki told Espncricinfo.
“We needed to create enough space so that we would not have international fixtures clashing with our new league.”
Back to Elgar and England. Ever since he landed in England, he has been shouting out warnings at England. First was about England’s Bazball approach seen in the recent games against New Zealand and India.
“It is always difficult to judge from afar, but I don’t think England’s brave cricket is sustainable,” Elgar had told The Rapport newspaper.“If New Zealand had taken their catches, England’s new attacking style would have left them with egg on their face.
“England’s new style is quite interesting, but it would have been very different if New Zealand had taken their chances.”
Soon, he would reiterate it to the media in England. “If they come out playing like that in an official Test match and it goes pear-shaped, that will not look very good for England … With all due respect, I am really not going to entertain that [Bazball] anymore. We have chatted about it long and hard. I just want to crack on with the cricket. I think the game deserves that respect and mud-slinging is now a thing of the past for me.”
Elgar talked up his team’s approach. “It might be hard work for us but this is what we are here to do,” he said. “We are not here to play soft-natured cricket. We want it hard and really tough and hopefully the results go our way … “I would like to think from a bowling point of view, our bowlers are big, tall, fast and strong buggers and we have ticked the boxes in regards to the spin department.”
“I’m still a purist when it comes to Test cricket,” Elgar told the BBC. “I don’t stuff around with too many styles of play. I think the game demands and kind of deserves it.”
England’s captain Ben Stokes took a subtler approach. “The opposition seem to be doing a lot of talking about it [Bazball] at the moment – we don’t really speak about it that much,” he said.c“We don’t dive into it too much, but I’m happy for Dean and the South Africa team to say they’re not interested and then keep talking about it.”
And when all the talk subsided and the Test began, it soon proved a one-way traffic with South African bowlers harassing and hustling out the English batsmen.
Jonny Bairstow, the star of the Bazball in the recent past, was taken out twice by the pacy Anrich Nortje.
An old problem re-surfaced in the first innings. The full ball that tends to tail in has often troubled Bairstow; the Indians too would exploit it in 2021 but he seemed to have sealed up the gap when the Indians returned a year later. But Nortje ripped it open again with his pace and direction. Bairstow would lose his stumps in the first innings and in the second, Nortje did the other: produced a crafty straightener in the off stump corridor to induce a fatal poke from Bairstow.
The other in-form batsman was Joe Root. The tall left-armer Marco Jansen, who got the ball to repeatedly bend back into right handers in the first innings, produced a curler to trap him in front. In the second innings, Lungi Ngidi produced a superb leg cutter from wide of the crease that had Root edging the poke behind the stumps.
The others were easy pickings, barring Ollie Pope and unsurprisingly, South Africa ran through England twice.
“I didn’t wake up this morning thinking I’d be doing a press conference before five o’clock. As a playing group it’s a special bunch and we play bloody good cricket when we’re playing well,” said Elgar.
“I would like to think that what we’ve laid down as a foundation has been pretty true and pretty solid … it hasn’t been fake, it’s been real … We did it at a unique place – a sold-out Lord’s on a Friday.”