Cape Town – Dean Elgar has got the backdrop he traditionally so relishes: the Proteas up against it.
That is when the diminutive opening batsman’s best qualities tend to come to the fore, so the second and decisive final Test against Sri Lanka at St George’s Park from Thursday seems tailor-made for him to prosper.
It that’s what transpires, it would not be before time for him, either.
The left-hander has had an unusually lean local Test summer thus far, with a solitary half-century to show (exactly 50) against Pakistan at Centurion, and his poor trot also extends to the earlier, winter tour of Sri Lanka itself.
The stats tell a fairly bleak story: since his influential role in the 3-1 first post-isolation home series triumph over Australia late last season – when he made major runs in all of the last three contests – Elgar has laboured through six subsequent Test matches, two away and four on home soil, for a total of 210 runs at an unflattering average of 19.09.
That includes last weekend’s shock, one-wicket reverse to the unfancied Sri Lankans at Kingsmead, where he got a duck and 35, which also meant that his career average (39.58) hovers just below what is regarded as the key watermark for genuine “quality batsman” approval of 40.
The Durban result placed the tourists on a really tantalising footing: if they can draw or win the series-closer in Port Elizabeth, they will become the first Subcontinent side to clinch a series triumph in South Africa after 21 prior, failed attempts.
Those encompass seven cracks at it by India, six by Pakistan, five by the Sri Lankans and three by Bangladesh.
South Africa are left to simply salvage some pride by bouncing back in the Friendly City for a 1-1 series outcome, but that would still be an awful lot better than losing it, which would be a truly stinging blow to their plans to re-assume global dominance (from India) in the Test landscape.
It is the sort of situation to stir Elgar’s competitive juices to the maximum, and he was just starting to knuckle down to one of his overdue, feistier and more durable innings at Kingsmead when he drove a ball forcefully straight back to rookie left-arm spinner Lasith Embuldeniya who gleefully scooped the stinging chance.
But at least St George’s Park is also a highly encouraging place for the now 55-cap senior player – not unlike the illustrious Graeme Smith for his grit eclipsing technical majesty -- to recapture a heavier-scoring habit: he has a wonderful track record at the venue.
Elgar has barely failed to deliver the goods in six Test appearances there, stretching back to his first game in January 2013, when he notched a maiden century (103 not out) against New Zealand from the unusual berth of No 7 in the order.
Subsequently, his performances have been 83 and 16 against Australia, 121 against West Indies, 45 and 52 against Sri Lanka in the last Test between the two nations there, 31 against Zimbabwe in the once-off pink-ball Test and 57 and five against Australia in the 2017/18 series.
That is a total of 513 runs at 64.12.
So there are quite powerful, twin reasons for hope that South Africa’s pocket battleship will fire over the next few days, when we should establish more broadly whether the shuddering Kingsmead loss was merely an aberration by the Proteas.
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