Watson hails spirit of South Africa skipper Dean Elgar

The ICC Review

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Dean Elgar, the South Africa opener and captain, is set to cross the 5000-run mark in Test cricket, prompting Australia legend Shane Watson to applaud the mettle of the unsung left-hander.

Elgar needs 66 runs in the final Test against England at the Oval, and his Proteas side are in the mix for taking the top spot in the ICC World Test Championship.

Asked just how big a feat it was to cross the landmark, Watson said: “It’s a brilliant effort.

 “For an opening batsman to score five thousand runs, it’s a great effort. There’s no question about that.

“He’s a tough, gritty batsman, knows his game inside-out, knows how to be really effective, and 5,000 runs – there’s not a lot of people in the history of Test cricket who have not been able to do that.”

Some runs are made tougher than others in international cricket, and it's fair to say Elgar’s task has been difficult, almost on a solo mission at the top of the order for his country.

Since the start of 2017, Elgar has made 3408 runs as the only South Africa opener to average better than 40 (40.57).

Elgar has batted with seven opening partners in the same period, with Aiden Markram (36.53) and newcomer Sarel Erwee (31.00) the only other players at the top to better 30.

Tailoring his game for the long formant, Elgar has a clear mind leading the team, and for Watson, the free schedule allows the 35-year-old to preserve his body and continue piling up the runs in Test whites.

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“Only playing Test cricket, there’s enough downtime to be able to stay fresh and keep that freshness for the next four-five years. I’m sure he’ll be making the most of that,” said Watson.

“He certainly can play for another four, five years I think, with his performances still being very high, and he’s a great leader around the group as you can see with his captaincy as well. He’s still got a fair way to go, I believe.

It’s a big series (against England), and as captain of South Africa, he’s doing a brilliant job. It’s an incredible achievement, that’s for sure.”

Leadership has not been a burden for Elgar, who took over from Quinton de Kock in early 2021. The team under Elgar has so far bettered their fifth-placed finish in the last Test Championship cycle, with the skipper managing a potentially world-class bowling attack with aplomb.

“He’s done a brilliant job. The thing that stood out to me was just how brave he’s been,” Watson added.

“The way he’s used (Keshav) Maharaj – he trusts his gut, and brings him on at different times, and sets really aggressive fields. It’s paid off so many times.

“It also helps that he’s got some of the best fast bowlers in the world as well. That’s going to make things a little bit easier, with (Kagiso) Rabada, (Anrich) Nortje, (Marco) Jansen, Lungi Ngidi – that’s pretty amazing firepower with your quicks, with (Keshav) Maharaj complementing that.”

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And it’s not just the responsibility taken by Elgar on the field that has impressed Watson. Refreshingly candid speaking to the media before the England series, his somewhat antagonistic position against England and their ‘Bazball’ approach has only spurred his own side on to ruin the party, winning the first Test.

“It’s nice to see when the captains are pretty honest. It imbibes a bit more emotion in the Test series, which is great,” said Watson.

“And I completely agree with him. All this talk about ‘Bazball’, in the end, what England have done is gone in and taken the game on, been more proactive.

“I can see why Dean Elgar is trying to not give it much more oxygen, this ‘Bazball’ term, because he knows the calibre of bowling he’s got in his arsenal.”

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South Africa continue their push for the World Test Championship final on September 8, and a win over England will move them level with Australia on top with 70 per cent of possible points.

The side haven’t won a Test series in England in their last three attempts, but under Elgar, Watson feels there is a belief in the group ready to buck the trend.

“He’s always talking pushing the limit to how good they can be, and not just being happy and settled with what’s going on right now.

“We’ve seen that in the England series so far, especially with the first Test match. They’ve got a seriously good team.”

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