Cricket: Elgar resistance underscores how tough first Test against New Zealand was

After four days of ups and downs, New Zealand and South Africa had to settle for a draw in the first Test in Dunedin, after day five was washed out by the rain without a single ball being bowled. By ANTOINETTE MULLER.

With South Africa building a decent total in their second innings and the pitch turning more, it looked like everything was set up for a thrilling final day. But Mother Nature had other plans and just after lunch-time in New Zealand, the two captains shook hands and a tough encounter ended without a winner, as is the wont of cricket’s idiosyncrasies.

While the result is probably a fair reflection on the effort of both sides, it does not quite paint the picture of just how tough this was for the South Africans. Notorious slow starters in series, particularly away from home, the Proteas had to graft for absolutely everything in this match and nothing underscores their effort better than Dean Elgar’s resistance in both innings.

In total, Elgar spent 772 minutes – or nearly 13 hours – at the crease, more than the time it took New Zealand’s 11 batsmen to construct their entire first innings. He faced 548 balls in that time, the most by any visiting batsman to New Zealand and the fourth most by any South African in a Test ever, as pointed out by Cricinfo. He is also the first South African batsman to face 200 deliveries in both innings.

Elgar described his first innings slog – where he scored a hundred – as “one of the toughest” of his career and he had high praise for the New Zealand bowlers.

This game is a mental game and you need to use it in your favour. It worked out that it was one of those situations where you had to scrap it out and fight it out and not think about yourself. For once you had to think about the bigger picture, that was the team, and what the team needed at that moment,” he said.

Elgar has proven to be an incredibly valuable opener for South Africa since first making his Test debut in 2012. He moved around the order between then and 2014, but has now settled into his preferred spot and has gone about his business mostly unnoticed. He admitted after the first day that he is “not very talented” and “free-scoring” but said he believes that his ability to “guts it out and grind it” was to his advantage.

In this Test, indeed it was. His resilience was only matched by Temba Bavuma in the first innings. While Bavuma got off to a much quicker start than Elgar, he eventually settled and grafted for his own half century, batting for 227 minutes and facing 164 balls, the second-most of the South African innings. Du Plessis also dug in his heels in both innings, but that has become somewhat of a hallmark of his.

The one advantage for South Africa is that their bowlers didn’t have to work quite as hard the batsmen. While they got through plenty of overs in the first innings, no play on Sunday meant that Kagiso Rabada and Co had a much-welcomed extra day to put their feet up.

Still, Du Plessis admitted that the team was frustrated with the way things ended, especially with Ross Taylor and Trent Boult down with injury.

When the day, especially a Test match, finishes the way it did, it’s very frustrating. From our position, we felt that yesterday was tough, there was a lot of grafting, but we got ourselves into a position where if today was a full day of cricket with New Zealand being one seamer down and one of their main batters out of the team, we fancied our chances. It’s disappointing from that point of view,” Du Plessis said.

It was South Africa’s first Test since beating Sri Lanka in January and for players like Elgar, who do not feature in the one-day side, it was the first time playing international cricket since then. For Du Plessis, getting that first knock out of the way was an important part of the series.

Someone like Dean coming in and scoring some runs was good. Getting rid of those cobwebs was good, to get the guys going again. I feel we are always very good once we get that engine running, we are looking forward to that second Test match with the guys playing a bit of cricket,” the captain said.

The teams now move to Wellington, with the second Test starting on Thursday. DM

Scorecard summary:

Result: Match drawn

South Africa 308 all out (Elgar 140, Bavuma 64, Du Plessis 52, Boult 4-64) and 224 for 6 (Elgar 89, Du Plessis 56*)
New Zealand 341 (Williamson 130, Raval 52, Watling 50, Maharaj 5-94)

Photo: New Zealand's BJ Watling and South Africa’s Dean Elgar share a joke after colliding. New Zealand Black Caps v South Africa, day 4, first match, ANZ Test series, University Oval, Dunedin, New Zealand. Saturday, 11 March, 2017. Copyright photo: John Cowpland /