Dean Elgar ton thwarts India after backup act flops | Cricket

    Dean Elgar ton thwarts India after backup act flops | Cricket

    You have put up 245, well aware it could have easily been way under without KL Rahul’s doughty batting. In front of you is a South Africa batting line-up without the injured Temba Bavuma and an aggregate experience of 13 Tests between Tony de Zorzi, Keegan Petersen and the debuting David Bedingham after openers Aiden Markram and Dean Elgar. This is Day 2 at Centurion—as overcast as it was on Tuesday—and within four overs, Markram is sent back. How South Africa went from there to 256/5 when bad light forced early close of play will not be a comfortable dissection for India.

    South Africa’s Dean Elgar plays a shot(PTI)

    There is no Mohammed Shami, and so logic dictates Jasprit Bumrah and Mohammad Siraj should do bulk of the fast bowling, followed by Ravichandran Ashwin who at least can be stiflingly accurate if the pitch doesn’t assist any turn. And only after them should come Shardul Thakur and Prasidh Krishna, preferably in that order.

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    The target is pretty straightforward: Get Elgar, and a sizeable lead is there for the taking. Only India found ways to undermine their position. Even on the best of days, Elgar is a bundle of nerves when he starts out—scratching around, getting pinged on the body regularly while trying to hang back as much as possible. The aim should be to draw him into a drive, an information that can’t be unknown to India.

    His first two boundaries are off Bumrah, who strayed onto his legs, and Siraj who was a tad fuller than desired. But Krishna—on debut—bowled his first ball in Test cricket on good length, barely making any course correction in the 14 overs to follow.

    Krishna is a hit-the-deck sort of pacer, but the conditions warranted him to be careful about his length. He wasn’t. Fourteen overs into South Africa’s innings, the ball still shiny and hard, Krishna went short at Elgar, allowing him to stand tall and pull him in front of square for four. Three balls later, he ran down a good length delivery past gully for a four.

    Twelve runs off 12 balls to Elgar should have set off alarm bells within the India camp but why they still persisted with Krishna after lunch was anybody’s guess. No amount of runs can’t prevent a batter from feeling cagey in the first few overs after lunch but bewilderingly enough, India started that session with Thakur and Krishna.

    The next eight overs leaked 42 runs, with both bowling either full or short and South Africa easily navigating a phase that should have been otherwise. Elgar was fluent but for somebody with a career strike rate of 47 to get to 50 in 79 balls and then to 100 in 140 balls indicates factors more than just grit may have been in the works.

    That 76 runs out of the hundred came from boundaries told you how much Elgar was at ease with the conditions, just as Rahul was in the day with a second hundred at Centurion in as many appearances, courtesy a boundary percentage of 79.21—the third highest by an Indian batter in a Test century.

    But that doesn’t even begin to cover how valuable that hundred was in the context of the Test match at that juncture of the game. Technically, India added 37 runs to their overnight score but in reality, 72 out of the 81 runs scored after the seventh wicket fell came from Rahul’s bat. By end of the day, Elgar’s innings had started assuming similar significance.

    Only, South Africa were in a much better position to begin with. Till Bumrah squared up Zorzi with an angled length ball that took a thick edge and flew to Yashasvi Jaiswal at third slip, South Africa had raked up 104 in 29 overs.

    Petersen chopped a short delivery from Bumrah on to his stumps and South Africa were 113/3 but instead of making Bedingham sweat for his runs, Rohit Sharma took Bumrah out of the attack after another over. Returning from a first spell of 6-0-34-0, Krishna’s second delivery of his second spell was so short that Bedingham had no difficulty in pulling it over deep square-leg for a massive six.

    By this time Elgar was in such good nick that he was coming on to his front foot and driving like he had rarely driven before. So, from 100 in 28 overs, on to 150 in 40 overs—with Elgar coming down the pitch and driving Ashwin through on for an imperious four—South Africa barely looked a side down a batter.

    At tea, South Africa’s innings swelled to 194/3 thanks to an extended post-lunch session that yielded 145 runs at 4.4 per over with Bedingham taking the attack to the fast bowlers in an impressive fifty. He was finally dismissed in the last session, with South Africa one run away from equaling India’s first innings. Krishna too got his first wicket in the form of Kyle Verreynne but looking ominous now is Elgar’s unbeaten vigil.

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