Dean Elgar could have been dismissed for a duck off the second ball he faced in the second innings at The Oval. He was rapped by Stuart Broad on the pad, replays showed it pitched in line and was clipping but not enough to overturn Aleem Dar’s on-field decision, had England reviewed. Elgar survived.
Elgar could have been dismissed for 9 off the 15th ball he faced. He edged James Anderson to Keaton Jennings at the third slip. The chance was low, Jennings shelled it and Elgar survived.
Elgar might have been dismissed for 73 off the 114th ball he faced. He followed a Broad delivery down the leg side and England only half-appealed, though replays seemed to suggest the faintest of edges. Elgar survived. That is how Test cricket goes.
Elgar was hurt when he had 33, off the 56th ball he faced, when Toby Roland-Jones hit on him on the hip. He was hurt before that, in the field, when Jonny Bairstow drove a delivery back to him, causing a bleeding and later bruised finger, and he was hurt after that, when he had 77, off the 122nd ball he faced, a short ball from Ben Stokes smashing into said bruised finger.
That’s how Test cricket the way Dean Elgar knows it goes. And that is why he could at least reflect with satisfaction on an eighth Test hundred after South Africa’s defeat at The Oval.
“I prefer not getting hit, to be honest, but you have to take the blows. It puts me in a different mindset. It’s like the challenge is a little bit more. I guess only an opening batsman could see it that way,” he said afterwards, sometimes looking straight ahead, most of the time staring at the bandaged finger that he will keep covered up until after the Old Trafford Test. “I haven’t taken this off yet and I’m not going to.”
He is also not going to have an X-ray on it to determine how bad the damage may be. “That’s a waste of money. Let’s not go that way.”
Though the medical committee will have the final word on Elgar’s availability – and they seem to be fairly lenient given the state with which they let Vernon Philander take the field – Elgar has declared himself “ready” for the decider, which is tailor-made for his approach. England’s attack is on the up, South Africa have their backs to the wall and Elgar wants to prop them up just as he did at The Oval. “It’s something that gets me going, chirping and stuff like that that is something that really gets me going. I enjoy that,” he said. “England are a big huff-and-puff bowling attack and when they are on top they are definitely going to bring their mouths as well.”
Admittedly, “if the shoe was on the other foot I’m sure we’d be doing the same,” Elgar said. But for now South Africa have to accept their underdog status.
It is not just the England team’s on-field chatter that they have to contend with, but partisan crowds, bigger than any South Africa experience at home, who bring all the fun of the fair with them. Despite the vocal support for the home team – and by implication, the joy when the visitors put a foot wrong – Elgar is enjoying the crowds as much as anyone. “It’s brilliant, that’s why you play the game. As a kid you witness that on TV and you hear the crowd singing the person’s name – you have to try and put it on your side as well, get motivated. You almost have to be a little more stubborn, tighter in your game plan, so you can use it in your own game.”
The atmosphere was particularly rowdy when Stokes was at his finest, on the fourth afternoon. Stokes took out Quinton de Kock and Faf du Plessis in consecutive ball in a fiery spell which Elgar survived.
“It’s a great occasion facing a guy like that,” Elgar said. “He’s a big-match player and he’s going to come hard, it’s a great battle playing against him. That’s what makes Test cricket so special still. People can’t say the game is dying when you have support like that happening, it seems to happen more when two big Test nations are playing against each other. It’s brilliant for the individuals. That’s what makes Test cricket so much better than any other format.”
Later Stokes struck the body blow and Elgar survived, then swiveled his way to some of his finest pulls. And much later Stokes was at first slip when Elgar became the first victim of a Moeen Ali hat-trick and though he was both dismissed and hurt, it was still Test cricket the way he likes it to go. “It’s a freaky game, you will never be better than this game. There will always be a script written by someone else.”