TELFORD VICE, Centurion
DEAN Elgar could be accompanied by his sixth partner in 26 test innings when he walks out to open the batting for SA against England in Centurion, which starts on Friday.
Graeme Smith, Alviro Petersen, Stiaan van Zyl, Vernon Philander, and Temba Bavuma have all done the job with the nuggety left-hander since his first crack at it in the second test against Australia at St George’s Park in February 2014.
Rilee Rossouw’s release from the squad on Wednesday, which followed Stiaan van Zyl’s omission on Tuesday, means Stephen Cook, a belated addition for this match, is a step closer to earning his first test cap.
That’s if SA don’t try and pull a rabbit out of a crumpled hat – England have already won the series – by rocketing Quinton de Kock or Bavuma to the top of the order. JP Duminy, who was dropped after the first test at Kingsmead, could then be recalled to bat lower down.
But, by the sound of Elgar on Wednesday, it’s Cook, who has a franchise first-class average of 83.00 this season after scoring two centuries in six innings for the Lions and was last summer’s leading run-scorer, who will have to stand the heat of Centurion’s often spicy kitchen.
“‘Cookie’ has been knocking on the door for a long time,” Elgar said. “With the domestic performances he’s put in … you can’t not notice what he has done in the last two or three seasons. He has put up his hand and put a lot of pressure on the (test) openers.”
At least, on Van Zyl, who averages 15.60 after opening with Elgar in 11 test innings. Part of the problem is that Van Zyl bats at No. 3 for the Cobras.
“It’s unfortunate that Stiaan is the guy that’s been left out,” Elgar said. “I feel for him because he was asked to do a job that was foreign to him.
“I feel it was a position Stiaan was very capable of doing. I feel for him because I know what it’s like being in bad form.”
That said, Elgar should be happy to open the batting with Cook, if that happens at Centurion.
They have done so together in four first-class innings for SA A, and only once have they not posted at least a half-century stand. Better yet for Elgar, he made two tons and two scores of more than 70 in those innings.
One of Elgar’s other opening partners, Smith, has stepped out of the tent he was in for the Newlands test – when he was co-opted into the SA camp in an undefined role – and taken aim at his former comrades and, it would seem, coach Russell Domingo, in the media.
“The players have to take responsibility for their performances … but the management do, too,” Smith said on television. “The performances of the test team for the last year haven’t been good enough, so you have to ask questions of everybody.”
Elgar was not amused: “What’s been said in the media is quite wrong and a little bit hurtful. Our management deserve a lot more respect, especially by those guys who have worked with them before.”
However, he did feel “a specialist batting coach would add a lot of value” in a dressingroom that has two bowling coaches in Charl Langeveldt and Claude Henderson but no recognised batting mentor.
The scoreboard concurs. In SA’s last nine tests, none of which they have won, they have passed 300 just twice in 14 innings while being dismissed for fewer than 200 eight times, twice for fewer than 100.
• Fast bowler Hardus Viljoen, who made his debut in the third test at the Wanderers last week, was released from the squad on Wednesday.