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
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
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
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
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
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.”
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