Cape Town - In an exclusive interview, DEAN ELGAR talks about his stint in county cricket, how he dealt with the disappointment of missing out on Cricket World Cup selection and how South Africa should target India on Wednesday.
Sport24 asked: How would you assess your season with Surrey so far?
Dean Elgar: It’s been quite a tough start to the season and we haven’t played the greatest of cricket as yet. From a team point of view, we have struggled a bit to try and get results going our way. (Surrey are currently in sixth place in the eight-team competition). Personally, I have had an up-and-down season. I have had some really good performances and other not so good displays. However, there is still plenty of cricket left to be played and there is enough time to turn it around. In terms of off the field, Surrey look after their overseas players very well. I’m living in Wimbledon and with the high number of South Africans expats, for me, it’s a home away from home. I’m staying in a familiar area as I was in the UK last year as well. (Elgar, who is Surrey’s overseas player for 2019, is in his fourth spell at the Kia Oval after playing three matches in 2015, completing two months early in 2018 and returning for the end of season. In terms of county cricket, he also played for Somerset).
Sport24 asked: Was it tough to miss out on Proteas World Cup selection?
Dean Elgar: It is always disappointing to miss out on World Cup selection and not be part of such a big occasion for your country, but it is what it is. I can tell you that I definitely haven’t lost any sleep over it. I have played enough cricket over the course of my career to be mature and professional about decisions which are out of my control. I might never have the opportunity to play in a World Cup again because I might not be playing international cricket for much longer – you never know. (Elgar turns 32 on 11 June and has played 56 Tests and eight ODIs for South Africa, the last of which came against Zimbabwe in Bloemfontein in October, 2018). It’s an obvious disappointment on a personal front but, in saying that, I am very happy for the guys that are there. In terms of being pigeonholed as a Test player and not an ODI option, it’s not even a discussion in my life anymore. I’m not going to even entertain that topic and people can speak the way they want. I have said my say before and my record speaks for itself. (Elgar has a highest ODI score of 42 and strike-rate of 58.75).
Sport24 asked: How would you sum up South Africa’s start to the event?
Dean Elgar: It was heart-warming to see a host of South African supporters, many of whom are expats, watching the Proteas matches in their green and gold at the Oval. The result against England in the opening match was quite disappointing, but playing against the favourites was always going to be hard work. At big tournaments the trend is for South Africa to start quite slowly and play better cricket as the tournament progresses. Hopefully the defeats to England and Bangladesh are only minor setbacks and they can build and grow from now on. South Africa still have to find their feet in the tournament and you can’t judge yourself on the warm-ups games you play. Playing in Cardiff is totally different to playing up in London. Hopefully South Africa have learned a few lessons from their first two games and they make the necessary changes. Had South Africa played risk-free cricket for the first 25 overs against England, I have no doubt that they would have chased down that score. The Oval is a very fast scoring field and once you have two batsmen set, the runs will flow. However, you have to earn the right and can’t just bash it from the first ball. South Africa batting line-up is obviously not the same as England’s, so they should have potentially played a bit smarter earlier on. The total of 312 which South Africa were chasing in their opening game was definitely attainable. They will come to realise that the longer you bat in the UK, the quicker your strike-rate increases. You don’t have to win the game in the first 25 overs, but you can certainly lose it in the first 25 overs.
Sport24 asked: How would you describe Quinton de Kock’s evolution?
Dean Elgar: Quinny has been playing very good cricket over the last couple of years and I think he is more comfortable with regards to his game plan. If he has a good World Cup, I think the Proteas will be in a strong position. Quinny is now one of the senior batsmen within the ODI side and is expressing himself more freely. He is a positive person to have in the change room and hopefully his batting form continues and it rubs off on the other players. It’s always a positive sign to see Quinny in the runs, doing what he does best and contributing to the team cause. However, to win a game you need at least two guys to put their hands up and score runs. Rassie van der Dussen, who scored 50 against England and 41 against Bangladesh, is gaining experience with every game, while Aiden Markram scored a polished 45 against the Bengal Tigers off the back of a successful campaign with Hampshire during which he scored a boatload of runs. I believe the Proteas possess the talent to pile on the runs and hopefully their nervous energy can settle down and they can do what they do best.
Sport24 asked: What do you make of the flak Dale Benkenstein receives?
Dean Elgar: The blame apportioned to Benkie, as the batting coach, is tough because it is definitely not from a lack of effort. From a first-hand account, I have dealt with Benkie quite a lot within the Test side and the last three ODI games I played and he definitely doesn’t shy away from hard work. He puts in massive yards with the players. Nevertheless, fingers are pointed at him and he has become a bit of a scapegoat. Ultimately, it’s the players playing the game and not the coach. I’m pretty sure that Benkie had some quality time with the guys during the build-up to the tournament and knowing him, he would definitely have done the hard work with individual players. I feel it’s very unfair to point fingers at Benkie... I think South Africa need to try and extend their batting line-up and, if they can potentially add another batting all-rounder to the mix, it can strengthen their side. I’d like to see David Miller get another crack even if he comes in at number seven. Alternatively, Chris Morris taking that slot would allow them the opportunity to take the game deeper with their batting attack.
Sport24 asked: What are the differences when batting in the UK versus SA?
Dean Elgar: The one aspect that plays a massive factor with regards to batting in the UK is the weather. Overhead conditions play a significant part. Once you get yourself in and apply yourself at the crease in the UK, even when overcast batting becomes easier. And when the sun’s out, the runs tend to flow. Generally, the ODI wickets in England are very good and, in actual fact, they are some of the best ODI wickets I have ever played in my career so far. Something that I have realised from playing in the UK is that the squares are very big and the ball tends to run to the boundary much faster than what we are used to in South Africa. In the UK, you need to give yourself a little bit of extra time to get in and accustomed to the pace of the game. As an example, Rassie took a while to get going, but once he settled in the runs he scored almost caught up to the balls which he faced. Some have pointed to poor shot application and the manner in which some of the Proteas batsmen have been dismissed. However, I think it’s more the anxiety than anything else. Metaphorically speaking, it’s a case of wanting to throw the first punch as a batsman and unfortunately sometimes you get a dismissal that comes your way. It gets easier the minute you start slowing the game down and playing at your pace. You need to absorb pressure and understand 50 overs is a long time to bat.
Sport24 asked: How would you appraise South Africa’s chances against India?
Dean Elgar: There is plenty of hype and external factors that play a part during a World Cup campaign and potentially the guys have been a bit nervous in the first two games. The sooner the Proteas settle those butterflies, the quicker they will be back to their natural game. On Wednesday at the Ageas Bowl, it will be like a home away from home for India, who enjoy vociferous support and South Africa will need to quieten down the crowd. It’s always going to be a tough game against India, but a massive factor in determining the outcome will be whether the ball swings upfront. If it’s overcast, the Proteas will need to pick a bowler who can nail India’s top three batsmen, in particular, with the swinging ball because the likes of Shikhar Dhawan, Virat Kohli and Rohit Sharma are vulnerable when it comes to said tactics. You have to almost kill them with the swinging ball… In terms of outlook for the tournament, I know that there is a lot of hype around England and India, but don’t write the Black Caps off. They boast proper players who have played plenty of county cricket as well and are always a dark horse. From a South African perspective, there are still seven regular fixtures left to play and probably you only have to win six or seven matches to qualify for the semi-finals. The Proteas have only lost two games so it’s not the be-all and end-all. The World Cup isn’t won in early June, but mid-July. There is still a lot to play for and the Proteas are in with a shout.