TELFORD VICE, Johannesburg
If Andrew Hudson and his selectors share Morne Morkel’s take on things, they might want to fetch SA’s next opening batsman from the SPCA.
“He’s a staffie,” was how Morkel described Elgar before the second test against Australia at St George’s Park last season.
Elgar promptly added bite to that bark by scoring an important 83, then dismissed Nathan Lyon to level the series in the wake of Australia’s thumping victory in Centurion.
Although he was not selected for the first test, Elgar will remember the match for coming on as a substitute fielder and dropping David Warner on 26. Warner went on to score 115.
So Morkel’s canine compliment conveyed Elgar’s bouncebackability, a valuable quality if he is to take on the hardest job in test cricket.
Elgar is the leading candidate to inherit the retired Graeme Smith’s spot at the top of SA’s test order. Besides his captaincy duties, Smith gave SA a rock solid start to their innings for the best part of 14 years. No opener was more respected, and accepted his responsibility more resolutely.
If Elgar is a staffie, Smith is an Irish wolfhound; a galumpher who brought more muscle and determination to the crease than he did seamless technique. He also brought success: 9265 runs at an average of 48.25 with 27 centuries; 14 of them made in the second innings and 12 of those in a winning cause. SA never lost a test in which Smith scored a hundred.
Elgar doubtless has smaller feet than SA’s former captain – he is 18cm shorter – and if Hudson pulls his name out of the hat when the squad to play two tests in Sri Lanka in July is announced next week, he could not have bigger boots to fill.
In the same way that all Alex Ferguson and David Moyes have in common is that they both managed Manchester United, all that would seem to connect Smith and Elgar – at this stage of the latter’s career – is that they both bat left-handed.
But Elgar has the vote of someone who has been there, done that as an opening batsman.
“He’s got a good technique, he scored 83 against a pretty good Aussie attack opening the batting and he has scored a hundred (batting at No. 7 against New Zealand in Port Elizabeth in January last year),” Jimmy Cook said yesterday.
“Just as you’re not going to replace Jacques Kallis overnight, you’re not going to replace Graeme Smith overnight. But Elgar deserves to have the first bite of the cherry.”
What did Cook think of the selectors’ going to the SPCA in search of an opener and having their hearts and minds stolen not by a staffie but by a boisterous boxer puppy? What price Quinton de Kock, who opens in the shorter formats, cracking the nod?
“Right now, Quinton is a candidate to play in the test side only if AB de Villiers takes over the captaincy and gives up the gloves,” Cook said. “If Hashim Amla becomes the captain, I don’t think Quinton will be in the side.”
Cook also gave a thought to Stiaan van Zyl’s claims, but “whether he could open, I’m not sure”. Van Zyl, the leading runscorer in domestic first-class cricket last season and a hot tip for the test squad, bats at No. 3 for the Cobras.
“Otherwise, you might have to go with someone like Andrew Puttick or maybe even Stephen (Cook, Jimmy’s son) as a more experienced guy with a record behind him,” Cook said.
Then again, everybody likes a staffie.