Best hundred I’ve had for South Africa: Elgar
One of the most memorable images during South Africa’s 2015 tour of India was that of Ravichandran Ashwin giving Dean Elgar a cheeky send-off after dismissing him in the first Test in Mohali.
“This ain’t Jo’burg!” Ashwin would later reveal was what he said to the left-hander for trying to play against the turn. India won that Test, and then the four-match series 3-0.
Cut to Friday, Elgar brought up his 12th Test ton with a six off a slog sweep against the same bowler who had been dismissive of his way of playing spin. It was also the first century by a South African on Indian soil in nine years. Clearly, the 57 Test-old Elgar had learnt his lessons from the last time; he finished on 160 off 287 balls. Thanks his efforts, the Proteas now have a big chance of saving the first Test after reaching 385/8 at stumps on Day 3 in reply to India’s 502/7d in the first innings.
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“We knew it was going to be hard work. A lot of stern messages were given out this morning in the huddle,” Elgar said after the day’s play. “It’s tough playing Test cricket in India. They are always coming at you. But I felt with previous experiences of playing against them that if you allow yourself time, you give yourself a bit of opportunity with your defensive game, your attacking game will come naturally and you will be able to get into the position that you are now.”
Opening the batting after the opposition puts on a 500-plus total mounts a lot of pressure, and that pressure can reach bursting point if wickets tumble at the other end. This is exactly where Elgar found himself—three of his teammates departed on the second day in rapid succession. Temba Bavuma got added to that list in the morning session on Friday, falling to Ishant Sharma, with the scoreboard reading 63/4.
Elgar kept his cool. Instead of retreating into a shell, he chose to counter attack. He played with soft hands, got on top of the ball and looked in complete balance as he led the Proteas fightback. Elgar’s confidence showed in the way he lofted the spinners, and the way he deployed the sweep to his benefit throughout the day.
For someone who had been mocked for playing against the spin a few years back, Elgar looked to extract the most out of a pitch where the Proteas was under threat of a collapse. Most of his runs came from the leg-side, with the on-drive being his most productive shot.
“I’d like to think it was me trying to be a little bit more putting my stamp on my innings, not allowing them to just bowl at me which has happened in the past,” Elgar said.
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On a sunny morning, captain Virat Kohli had brought in spin right from the second over of the day. Ravindra Jadeja and Ashwin had shared three wickets between them the previous evening, and this was South Africa after all.
But Elgar and South Africa captain and No. 6 Faf du Plessis negated that ploy with an offensive approach. This South African team has Amol Muzumdar as their batting coach and perhaps this was his advice put to work.
For the fifth wicket, Elgar put on 115 with du Plessis and shared another 164 runs for the sixth wicket with Quinton de Kock. The latter partnership was particularly aggressive as de Kock went after the bowling without wasting too much time.
Kohli threw everything at Elgar and his peers but got nothing in return. There were close-in fielders almost always to lap up even the slightest opportunity but Elgar’s defence ensured that they too remained silent. Finally when he fell to Jadeja, who induced a top edge off a sweep that was caught by Cheteshwar Pujara, South Africa had crossed 340. De Kock too would go on to complete his century on this remarkable day’s play—with a six off Ashwin. South Africa were not going down without a fight.
“I’d like to think it may be my best hundred I have had for South Africa,” Elgar said. “Especially playing against the prowess of India and to show them that last time was a little bit easier but this time it’s not going to be a pushover.”