Cook, Elgar: A firm catches fire

2016-12-28 22:00
Dean Elgar, Stephen Cook (Gallo Images)

Cape Town – It took a fair old while to ignite … but suddenly the Proteas’ opening alliance in Tests of Stephen Cook and Dean Elgar has exploded into highly productive combined action.

They were never touted to be – and probably won’t ever become – the most crowd-pleasing duo ever to grace the extended format; resilient rather more than they are riveting.

If they are a good foil for each other, as some commentators believe they are, it is presumably more on the obvious grounds of the left-right variety they offer to unsettle bowlers’ angles than anything else.

When they are together, don’t expect the scoring rate to be notably runaway too often -- both favour substance and endurance over style and brazenness.

Neither man is a renowned blaster of the shiny ball from the get-go in the manner of, say, a Warner, Sehwag, Gibbs, Gayle or Hayden at the front of the order.

And until the current, first Test against Sri Lanka at St George’s Park, their partnership wasn’t setting the world alight in statistical terms, either.

Pre-Port Elizabeth, they had opened the innings together in five Tests and, while sometimes cutting it pretty splendidly as individuals, struggled to put it together as a pairing.

There wasn’t even a half-century stand to boast, so not the best way to endear themselves to batsmen coming in immediately after them in the order.

Their stands since being united for the South African Test cause have read: 35 and 5 against England (Centurion, 2015/16), 33 against New Zealand (Durban, 2016), 0 and 35 against Australia (Perth, 2016/17), 43 against Australia (Hobart) and 12 and 1 against those foes at Adelaide.

In between, Elgar picked up an untimely pre-match injury for the second Test against the Black Caps at SuperSport Park, and Cook was joined temporarily up front for that clash by Quinton de Kock; they posted 133 and 31 before the wicketkeeper returned to his more customary slot at seven.

But things have finally turned full circle in success terms for the Cook-Elgar firm over the last three days; the third day’s play on Wednesday, in which the Proteas seized a positively monstrous grip, saw them register a second successive century partnership (116, added to 104 the first time around) in the game.

The significance in landmark terms should not be sniffed at.

It was the first time since as far back as 1929, a period of some 87 years, that the same pair of South African openers have posted ton-up stands in each innings of a particular Test – Bruce Mitchell and Bob Catterall registered 119 and 171 against England at Edgbaston that year in a drawn encounter.

Interestingly, there have been two other instances of South Africa achieving century opening stands in each knock of a specific Test, but on each occasion one of the batsmen had a different partner in the second innings.

The first was in the immortal Timeless Test of 1938/39 at Kingsmead, when Pieter van der Bijl amassed a stand of 131 with captain Alan Melville, and was then partnered by the previously-mentioned Mitchell in the second innings as they posted 191; Melville duly made a century from the No 6 berth in the legendary runs feast.

The other occasion was much more recently, as then-Proteas skipper Graeme Smith, at Headingley in 2012, put on 120 against England with Alviro Petersen – recently banned for two years for corruption-related issues – and then exactly the same tally with emergency opener Jacques Rudolph in the second time at the crease; Petersen had picked up a hamstring problem in his marathon innings of 182.

Cook and Elgar’s achievement represented just the 10th instance in Test history of the openers sharing century partnerships in both innings, and Proteas enthusiasts will be hoping it is a harbinger of things to come after a few years, especially since Smith’s retirement, in which the slots have been marked by fairly frequent instability.

The former looks much more like part of the SA batting furniture again – bearing in mind the conundrum over fitting in AB de Villiers when he is fully fit again – after his knocks of 59 and 117 at St George’s Park, which closely follow 40 and 104 against the Baggy Greens at Adelaide Oval after a reasonably lean mini-spell.

You cannot quibble about 575 runs at an average of a touch under 48 after seven Test matches, and as seasoned domestic coach Dave Nosworthy, who worked with Cook during his tenure with the Highveld Lions, reminded on Twitter (@DONCRICKET): “Amazing all the media talk re his poor technique … Graeme Smith was just as different & pretty successful.”

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

Read more on:    proteas  |  stephen cook  |  dean elgar  |  cricket


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