@swaris16 4 minute read
No.3 in Wisden’s men’s Test innings of 2023 is Dean Elgar’s 185 at Centurion against India. Sarah Waris revisits the knock.
Wisden’s men’s Test innings of 2023, No.3: Dean Elgar – 185 (287)
South Africa v India
Centurion, South Africa
In Test cricket, where narratives unfold across days, Dean Elgar, the seasoned 36-year-old opening batter from South Africa, scripted a compelling final chapter in his illustrious career at Centurion in the first Test against India.
For over a decade, Elgar had faced the challenges of South Africa’s demanding conditions. A glance at his career reveals a Test average of 37.92, yet his true mettle was evident on home turf, where his average soared to an impressive 47.01, significantly higher than the collective average of 32.20 by openers since his debut.
The stage was set in Centurion, where the hosts were dismissed for 245 despite a fighting ton from comeback man KL Rahul. Elgar, with the poise and precision that defined his career, frustrated the India pacers, his every move calculated with a unique technique that had a blend of a high backlift, a forward press and a distinctive crouch.
Facing right-arm quicks who angled the ball across or came around the wicket, Elgar’s play and misses seemed to flirt with danger, but as he settled in, it made way for a seasoned cricketer in complete control of his craft.
As Elgar and Aiden Markram strode onto the field on day two they were up against a stiff challenge as a thick cloud cover lay overhead with a lively surface underneath where Kagiso Rabada had earlier wreaked havoc. The new-ball spell by Jasprit Bumrah and Mohammed Siraj was marked by menacing deliveries that beat the bat regularly, ultimately claiming an early wicket with Markram’s dismissal.
The absence of captain Temba Bavuma, sidelined due to injury, exacerbated the pressure on Elgar. With Markram’s exit, Elgar found himself leading the least experienced top six for South Africa since 1997 against Pakistan. Yet, in adversity, Elgar, as he so often has over the years, excelled.
He forged partnerships with Tony de Zorzi and debutant David Bedingham, steadying the ship and symbolising a potential passing of the baton even as Test cricket in the country fights for survival.
It is not to say that he was not challenged: He was beaten regularly initially, was lucky to survive a thick edge to the gully and saw another fall just short of second slip. He looked ugly as India’s pacers were tight and economical upfront but Elgar soon adopted an uncharacteristic batting approach and the “mindset of looking to score,” which forced the Indian quicks into errors.
According to ESPNCricinfo, there were 24 drives against the India pacers, with an impressive 87.5 percent control at a strike rate of 179.2. Never before had Elgar played 20 or more drives off fast bowlers in a Test innings with such pace and control.
Elgar batted with a strike rate of 64.45, his third-fastest century. It was also only the fourth time he crossed 100 with a strike rate of more than 60, as South Africa surged ahead to post over 400 runs on the board.
The one regret he would have was remaining undecided against a quick bouncer from Shardul Thakur. Initially keen to play the pull, Elgar backed away at the last moment but not before his gloves had come in the way. A faint tickle saw him fall 15 runs short of his maiden double century, ending with a high score of 199, a number that mirrors the journey of a man whose contribution extended beyond mere statistics over the years.
The celebration of his century – marked by a jump, a punch in the air, and an acknowledgement of the applause – combined with the realisation of his impending retirement added a bittersweet note to the moment. For one last time, his knock became a testament to the resilience, adaptability, and an enduring passion for the game, which he adopted over the last eleven years.
As he forced India into submission, scoring more than what they managed the second time, keeping them away from their first series victory in South Africa once again, Elgar’s knock ended up being more than a cricketing milestone.
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