TELFORD VICE, Mohali
AFTER SA’s net session in Mohali on Monday, Dean Elgar gathered his kit with the meticulousness of the opening batsman he is.
Helmet. Pads. Gloves. Bag. Two bats, each in its own bag, slung over his shoulders. A quick word with a passing AB de Villiers and he was off to the team bus.
If Elgar had a ball somewhere in all that, observers couldn’t tell. But as much as his role in the team is defined by him taking guard at the top of the order, it is his contribution with the ball that defines him as a bloke.
“He’s a staffie,” was how Morne Morkel described Elgar during SA’s test series against Australia in February 2014.
Never is the staffie more in his element than when his captain asks for an over or three of the kind of left-arm filth that should be smacked into next week by test batsmen.
Except that it isn’t. In the 18 test innings in which the ball has been tossed to him, Elgar has conceded a run a ball or more just four times. Better yet, he has taken a wicket six times in those innings.
And they are often big wickets: Misbah-ul-Haq, Pakistan’s only disciplined batsman, to halt his march to a century in Dubai in October 2013, Nathan Lyon to clinch the second test at St George’s Park in February 2014, Steve Smith to snuff out another hundred in the next match of that series at Newlands, Tamim Iqbal four runs before the opening stand reached 50 in Chittagong in July, Mushfiqur Rahim 35 runs short of a ton a game later in Dhaka.
All that from a bona fide pie chucker. How? Why?
“He’s got the knack of getting wickets at strange times because he’s a left-arm spinner with not much – what’s the word I’m looking for? – expertise as a left-arm spinner,” Russell Domingo said with his Eastern Caper’s candour.
“Maybe players relax a little bit against him and that provides the opportunity to take wickets. He’s by no means a first-choice spinner but he’s able to bowl 10 overs a day for us and that’s a big help.”
It could be an especially big help in a test series in India, starting in Mohali on Thursday, that spinners are expected to dominate. SA, then, will appreciate the efforts of even the most casual practitioner of going nowhere slowly.
That said, Elgar has bowled more than 500 overs and taken 40 wickets – among them those of Ashwell Prince, Colin Ingram and Neil McKenzie – in his 112 first-class matches.
In Centurion in October 2011, he took 4/25 in seven overs for the Knights to help dismiss the Titans for 270 after they had been 227/4.
Domingo was right, but talent can get you only so far. The rest comes down to commitment and confidence – which beat talent any day of the week.
You can see Elgar’s bedrock belief in this truth in the smile that teases the corners of his mouth every time he takes guard.
But it gleams most brightly in his eyes when he stands squat and sturdy at the top of his hop, skip and jump to the crease, ready to burgle wickets with all that talent he doesn’t have.
Like any staffie, he loves playing with a ball.