Dean Elgar has called on his batters to make a name for themselves, but is also willing to carry the burden of scoring runs on his shoulders as South Africa look to defy the callow statistics of their top order to continue a remarkable run in Australia – they have claimed the last three series there.

Elgar and Temba Bavuma are the only specialist batters with previous experience in the country. A huge amount rests on them if South Africa’s strong bowling attack is to have enough runs to work with. But it’s Elgar’s fortunes that are likely to be critical to their chances. He has 13 Test centuries; among the rest of the touring squad there are four. His average of 38.83 is South Africa’s best whereas Australia have two batters – Marnus Labuschagne and Steven Smith – who stand at over 60.

“All the batters have to stand up,” Elgar said. “It’s been a bit of a talking point that’s been surrounding our batting unit of late. Again, I’ve never shied away from that. It’s time for the guys to rise up, time for myself personally to put my hand up and make a massive play for us. We’ve got a really talented group, they are just a little inexperienced when it comes to Test cricket. They don’t have a lot of baggage coming into the series. They just need to take the opportunities when they come their way.”

There has been some controversy around the absence of Ryan Rickelton. He was deemed unfit for the tour, with an ankle surgery at the end of the season provided as the reason, but has been churning out runs in domestic cricket back in South Africa. Elgar, however, remained diplomatic and backed those who had made it to Australia.

Elgar was part of South Africa’s 2012 and 2016 series wins in Australia, though his personal contribution to the former was somewhat limited: he bagged a pair on debut at the WACA, albeit in a game South Africa won by 309 runs to decide the series. You only have to look at the names around Elgar in that game to recall the batting riches they did once have: Graeme Smith, Hashim Amla, Jacques Kallis, AB de Villiers and Faf du Plessis.

“We come from South Africa where the wickets are pretty green and juicy. From a personal point of I don’t really shy away from that and I know our batters don’t either.”

Dean Elgar

However, some of his standout performances have secured victories: 83 in Port Elizabeth, 127 in Perth and carrying his bat for 141 in Newlands, an innings that could arguably rank as his best, although that became overshadowed by subsequent events. Five of his Test hundreds came during a stellar 2017 when his batting form peaked and the team need more than the 34.12 he has returned this year, though on some challenging surfaces.

“I always carry the weight of scoring runs, I’m the senior batter,” he said. “With my external pressures of being the captain I’ve got to score runs. Very much aware of that. It’s always something I thrive on, think it brings the best out of me.”

For the opening Test, the teams were greeted by a pitch that remained very green. Australia were taking it in their stride with the help of local knowledge, while Elgar took the glass-half-full view given where his team’s strengths lie, rather than the weakness.

“The wicket does look a little friendly for our bowling unit which is nice, but in saying that the green colour doesn’t really scare us,” he said. “We come from South Africa where the wickets are pretty green and juicy. From a personal point of I don’t really shy away from that and I know our batters don’t either.”

Since readmission, South Africa have only played at the Gabba once, on the 2012 tour, which turned into a high-scoring draw. But though Australia’s stranglehold on the venue was ended by India in early 2021, it has remained one of their favourite venues.

“We don’t have any dirty laundry in terms of playing at the Gabba,” Elgar said. “The history here is obviously not in our favour and that’s okay. You’ve got to have the mindset of playing to win. Australia’s a really tough place to play cricket but also such a rewarding place if you get things right. You have to go beyond what you are used to and [you] have to savour the moment.”


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