TELFORD VICE, Dunedin
DEAN Elgar versus Neil Wagner is a contest on many levels – batsman versus bowler, left-hander versus left-armer, determination versus danger.
Once it was also about smalltown kid versus city slicker, St Dominic’s versus Affies, Welkom versus Pretoria and Free State versus Northerns.
“It used to be pretty feisty,” Elgar said on Monday.
“There’s a lot of Afrikaans people in those two teams and it was pretty heated.
“It was all in good spirit and I guess we were all playing for careers we never thought we could have back then.”
They have those careers now, and on Wednesday the contest will be about South Africa versus New Zealand in the first test at University Oval in Dunedin.
Welkom-born, raised and schooled Elgar will open the batting for South Africa.
Pretoria-born, raised and schooled Wagner will take the new ball for New Zealand.
“I haven’t really had a lot of battles with him, but in school we did,” Elgar said.
“He seems to have come on in leaps and bounds for New Zealand and it seems like he’s leading their attack with regards to aggression – there’s a bit of South African mentality coming out there.”
Wagner returned the compliment: “We get along really well off the field but we’ve had a lot of battles on the field as young boys, from school cricket onwards, and we hated playing against each other.
“I do like sitting afterwards and having a beer with him but, yeah, we hate playing against each other.
“I guess it’s part and parcel of the job.”
At first-class level, Elgar versus Wagner has been a contest three times: in a provincial match in Bloemfontein in November 2006, and in tests in South Africa in January 2013 and August last year.
In none of those games did Wagner dismiss Elgar, although whether he inflicted the injury that forced Elgar to retire hurt in the first innings of the provincial game could not be established.
Wagner didn’t bowl to Elgar at Kingsmead in August, but he conceded 25 runs off 29 balls to him at St George’s Park in 2013 – when Elgar scored an unbeaten 103 and hit three of Wagner’s bouncers for four and hammered an overpitched delivery for six.
But Elgar batted at No. 7 in that match and first faced Wagner when the second new ball was almost 24 overs old.
That won’t be the case this week, when Elgar will take guard at the top of the order and can expect to have to deal with Wagner at first change.
To hear Elgar tell it, that won’t be as tall an order as if he had to contend with Vernon Philander.
“I’m glad he’s on my side and I don’t have to face him with the new ball; that’s a blessing,” Elgar said.
“His length will suit New Zealand conditions especially with the overhead (clouds) and a bit of rain around.”
Philander was South Africa’s best bowler in their only test in Dunedin, in March 2012.
He took 4/72 and 1/29 in a second innings cut short by rain that washed out the entire fifth day’s play – which was scheduled to start with New Zealand looking fragile on 137/4 in search of 401 to win.
The weather could get in the way again this time, what with rain forecast for the last two days on Saturday and Sunday.
Elgar was also pleased he wouldn’t have to put up with another Pretoria-born fast bowler, Morne Morkel, who took 2/52 in the first innings in Dunedin in 2012.
“I just have to face him in the nets; it’s only seven minutes of your day, luckily,” Elgar said.
Morkel, who last played test in January 2016, is back in the mix after recovering from a bulging spinal disc.
Wagner, too, is returning from injury – a broken finger.
Clearly, they make them tough in Pretoria.
Good luck telling that to anyone from Welkom.