TELFORD VICE at University Oval
PAUL Simon will have to forgive this, but it was a slow day and the sun was beating on the fielders by the side of the pitch.
And the boy in the bubble on the opening day of South Africa’s test series against New Zealand in Dunedin on Wednesday? Dean Elgar.
“You’ve got to try and control your bubble and work within your gameplan, and try and set up your innings quite big,” he said on Monday.
Elgar did exactly that, keeping his head while all around him Stephen Cook, Hashim Amla, JP Duminy and – later – Faf du Plessis were losing theirs.
South Africa reached stumps on 229/4, thanks in no small part to Elgar’s undefeated 128 – his seventh test century, which has seen him face 262 balls and hit 22 fours.
The day was set up for a player of Elgar’s bulldog spirit early in the second hour, when three wickets had fallen in 10 overs with only 22 scored.
That called into question Du Plessis’ decision to bat first, which made him the first captain in the last 23 tests played in New Zealand to have won the toss and not opted to field.
Du Plessis himself helped provide a reason why he did so in a stand with Elgar that grew to 122 before it was ended by a rash pull and a catch on the boundary.
But he had made a point: if the rest of the top five had batted with the discipline shown by Elgar and Du Plessis, South Africa would not have gone backward before they went forward.
Early on, the pitch, a flokati rug of green and brown grass, offered little pace and bounce but it did allow movement off the seam while the ball was new.
Even though the sun, though bright, was wintry and unwarming, the surface seemed to harden as the day wore on, which afforded South Africa’s batsmen the chance to play something closer to their natural game.
Sniping bowling by Trent Boult and Neil Wagner earned New Zealand control of the first hour, and they caused more problems with the second new ball.
But Elgar, dropped on 36 by the wicketkeeper off Boult, was going nowhere.
Temba Bavuma, in need of a sturdy innings to quell the hasty calls for his head, stood equally firm for his 38 not out to more than pull his weight in a partnership of 81.
It wasn’t quite a day of miracle and wonder, but South Africa will be pleased with how it ended.