IND vs SA, 2nd Test: Gritty Dean Elgar Stands in the Way of a Famous Indian Series Win

Winning Test matches is rarely easy. But losing a Test is something every team has done at some point or another. This is to say, you need to stitch together session after session of good play to win matches, but you have one desperately bad session and the game can be lost there.

At the moment, the way the second Test is poised, it appears to be South Africa’s to lose. When the third day’s play ended, South Africa were 118 for 2, chasing 240. Halfway there with the captain at the crease and eight wickets to come.

But, it’s not that simple.

In 2018, against India, at the same venue, South Africa were 124 for 1 chasing 241, with Dean Elgar still at the crease. They were bowled out for 177. Then again, that pitch was a seriously difficult one, and it was the last day of the Test match. India will know that this pitch is far less up and down and also that the roller will be used in the morning before play — heavy or light will be chosen by the batting team after looking at the conditions — and this will ensure that misbehaviour is minimal, for the first hour at least.

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That said, this Indian bowling attack is at the height of its powers. Jasprit Bumrah and Mohammad Shami have been a constant threat, and really not bowled one bad spell between them in this series. Add to this Shardul Thakur’s success in the first innings, and his obvious confidence in the second and you have an attack purpose-built to make one breakthrough and then run through a batting line-up.

But the first step is getting past Elgar.

In this innings, Elgar has been magnificent. He may only be on 46, from 121 balls, but has already shown that he has taken from India’s second-dig template and looked to be positive. Elgar is not the prettiest batsman in the world. In fact, with no disrespect to him, he would be in line to top the table of the least graceful left-hand batsmen going around. But, there is a certain kind of boxer who does not have an outstanding hook or a jab, whose arms seldom have the reach of the opponent and whose feet don’t necessarily set the dance floor on fire. Yet, this boxer can be a winner, because he can take harder blows, for longer than anyone else around.

This is the philosophy of Elgar’s crease occupation. On the day, he was hit on the body as many times as is possible. He wore rearing deliveries on the gloves, was rapped in the ribs, smacked on the shoulder and even clocked on the helmet. The blow to the head, from a Bumrah steeper, was the only one that even caused him to pause, as he sat on one knee and steadied himself. A quick medical check for the concussion later, Elgar was ready to address the next ball.

Also Read: ‘Competitive Nature of Test Cricket Brings the Best Out of Dean Elgar’

If Elgar’s innings was built on courage, India only got to a place where they could push South Africa into a corner thanks to twin knocks of maturity, sense and experience from Cheteshwar Pujara and Ajinkya Rahane. Pujara might have been batting to save his place in the team in many eyes, but in his own heart, it was clear the No. 3 batsman was looking to assess the situation and play according to it, giving his team the best possible chance of setting a target the bowlers could defend.

Rahane was equally pragmatic in his approach. On a wearing pitch, against top-quality bowlers, biding your time is not an option. No matter how early you read the length of the ball and how quickly you get into position to play the line, the red cherry can hit a crack and take off, keep low, or jag away or into you. At pace, it is next to impossible to adjust your stoke late when this happens.

To make the most of such a situation, you have to score runs when you can, and thereby transfer the pressure back onto the bowling unit. The lower scoring the match, the smaller the margin for error. The Pujara-Rahane partnership of 111 in 23.2 overs came at a run rate of 4.76. This is the second fast 100-plus stand by an Indian pair in South Africa, after that memorable 222 that Sachin Tendulkar and Mohammed Azharuddin added in 39.2 overs at 5.62 in 1997.

Whether Pujara and Rahane saved their places is in the team or not — and there’s no reason to suspect this is not the case — they certainly ensured that their team was in the best possible position to knockout South Africa and seal the series 2-0, with one game to play.

Can you really ask any more of your senior players?

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