TELFORD VICE in London
COUNT Russell Domingo among those who see more than a little old-fashioned South African gees in the way Dean Elgar plays cricket.
“He’s gutsy,” Domingo said on Monday. “He epitomises South African cricket to the T.”
That the pugnacious, hard-nosed, straight-talking Elgar has indeed done for 35 tests.
But No. 36 will be different.
Monday morning’s news that Faf du Plessis won’t be back from attending the birth of his and his wife Imari’s daughter in Cape Town in time to play in the first test against England at Lord’s on Thursday means Elgar will captain the visitors.
Elgar has seven captaincies to his credit among his 150 first-class games, the last of them in charge of the South Africans in their drawn tour match in Worcester at the weekend.
Before that, he was most recently in charge of the Knights against the Warriors in Bloemfontein in January 2013.
But the thought of Elgar walking out for the toss on Thursday despite his lack of captaincy experience won’t cause concern, not least because he is firmly established in South Africa’s leadership group.
Du Plessis’ replacement in the batting order on the team sheet Elgar will hand over to Joe Root — who will captain England for the first time — is likely to be Theunis de Bruyn.
The choice is between De Bruyn, who made his debut against New Zealand in Hamilton in March, and uncapped Aiden Markram, who was named in the squad as cover for Du Plessis.
“There’s been a sense of fairness to players,” Domingo said. “We haven’t really discarded players after one test match, or two or three innings.
“At the moment [De Bruyn] would be ahead in the pecking order, ahead of a guy like Aiden.”
Elgar wasn’t part of the squad who came to England in 2012 under Graeme Smith — another pugnacious, hard-nosed, straight-talking left-handed opening batsman — and went home with the No. 1 ranking.
Of that group only Du Plessis, Hashim Amla, JP Duminy, Vernon Philander and Morne Morkel have survived.
“It’s a massively different team,” Domingo said. “The last team had Smith, [Alviro] Petersen, [Jacques] Kallis, [AB] De Villiers, [Dale] Steyn, [Jacques] Rudolph, [Imran] Tahir …”
But that didn’t mean South Africa’s mission had changed.
“We want to win, that’s the bottom line,” Domingo said. “We’ve set ourselves certain goals we want to achieve in terms of test cricket and we are very determined to tick those boxes.”
To that end, South Africa will be relieved that Philander is over the ankle injury he sustained playing Sussex, particularly with Steyn still recovering from a broken shoulder.
“[Philander] is probably the hardest bowler to face in our side, and when he is not there we tend to struggle,” Domingo said.
“He gives us that control but also gives us the cutting edge if there is something in the wicket, and also balances our side with his batting.”
South Africa’s one-day squad arrived in England midway through May. The test side will be here until August 8.
That’s a long time to be on tour, even in a country not short of healthy distractions like Wimbledon, apparently endless daylight and too many pubs to count.
And it gets even longer when a team is coming second — as South Africa have done in the ODI and T20 series, along with crashing out in the first round at the Champions Trophy.
“It was always going to be a long three months in England whether you are winning or losing,” Domingo said.
“[But] there are a whole host of new players that will bring unbelievable energy.
“It’s a wonderful place to be touring. This is where you want to tour; these are the tours you want to be part of.
“We’re only halfway through so it hasn’t been that long.”
The other half starts on Thursday. Elgar can’t hardly wait.