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Elgar keen to see South Africa as underdogs

July 5th, 2017 | by admin
Elgar keen to see South Africa as underdogs

While we’ve been spending our time at ESPNcricinfo headquarters translating some of the most common Afrikaans cricket terms into English, it seems there may be a bigger task. Dean Elgar, South Africa’s stand-in captain, is looking for the meaning of another word; a word that he knows explains something about him which he can’t quite explain himself.

“If you take me off the field, I am quite a reserved and quiet guy, and if I get to know the person, I can be a clown. But once I cross the line, you can see it in my batting, I’m a bit tougher and more nuggety, as everyone has been calling it. I still don’t know what that word means.”

It means spending several seasons racking up runs on the domestic scene even when the national top-order was so clogged the chances of a promotion were slim. It means scoring over 1000 runs in a season, still being overlooked for higher honours and keeping going. It means brushing off a pair on Test debut and scoring a series-winning century on your first away tour in the absence of the senior core who cushioned your arrival. It means watching Alviro Petersen struggle and retire; Stiaan van Zyl struggle and get dropped; Stephen Cook struggle then spark and then struggle again to find himself sidelined and accepting the responsibility that comes with having to stabilise the side because of that.

It means being Dean Elgar in the only way he knows how and at Lord’s over the next five days, it is how the whole South African team will be.

Elgar’s XI will begin South Africa’s quest to continue a proud run on the road in the last 11 years, dented only by their defeat to India in 2015. Since then they have won in Australia and New Zealand but this will be the real test of whether they have retained their away-from-home advantage, because they are underdogs and Elgar likes it that way.

“We tend to play better when we are up against it,” Elgar said. “Everyone gets along and tours well. When you are away from home, that’s the only family you have.”

Not this time, though. In attendance at Lord’s will be the families of several of the South African players including Elgar’s. His father and his old school coach will be in attendance, after promising Elgar years ago that if he ever played a Test at Lord’s they would be there. “They saw something in me a little bit more than what I saw when I was nine years old. They said if it happens one day [play at Lord’s] then they were going to come and watch.”

Getting to this venue has long been an Elgar-family aim and now that he is here, he admitted it has lived up to expectation. “Everything about Lord’s seems to want you to do better. You hear all the folklore when you’re growing up and you watch it on TV, and it always looks so nice. Once you reach the big arena all those memories come flooding back, and you have your first opportunity to play here and try do well here. It’s an enhanced feeling when you get here, an emotion to try and do well,” he said

Elgar won’t just be trying to bat well, he will also want to captain well and for that to happen, he needs to ensure the sense of occasion does not overawe him. “As a captain you have to look at it as another game of cricket. You can’t let the occasion get the better of you. You’ve got to think about the team first and venue later,” he said. “You can sit on the balcony after the day’s play and admire what’s happened or play the play back in your head. But you can’t let the venue overwhelm you.”

No-one can say what kind of captain Elgar will make because he has only done it seven times before at first-class level so Lord’s will be the template for his leadership style. Though Elgar will hand the armband back to du Plessis for the second Test if all goes according to plan, he still hopes to remain part of the brains trust as he evolves from purely a player to a figure in a position of some power.

“I can contribute more within the team environment and will maybe be thinking a little bit less about myself and more about the team,” Elgar said. “That sometimes happens in international cricket — you do tend to just worry about your own game and not have to make the tough calls, which is sometimes a blessing or a curse. But leadership is about making those tough calls.”

One of them may be on team selection as South Africa decide whether they will veer from the usual seven specialist batsmen and settle for six in order to play a second allrounder in Chris Morris. On a green-tinged pitch, Morris may get the nod and things could be tough for batsmen but Elgar has already defied that. He scored a century when Somerset played Middlesex earlier this season, a stint that formed the core of his preparation for this series.

“I loved it. It was a very good three months for me at Somerset,” he said. “It was solely for me to come over was to give myself the opportunity do well in this Test series and gain experience in foreign conditions and try and play a lot of cricket as possible.”

In that time, he has already raised his bat at Lord’s. If he does again will take him from nuggety to noteworthy in an instant.


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