South Africa crumbled to their second defeat in the third Test against England, with Moeen Ali’s hat-trick topping off what had been a great game for the hosts at The Oval. Ben Stokes was declared the player of the match, and rightly so, for his exceptional innings of 112 in the first innings. Toby Roland-Jones’ debut will be remembered for a long time. Not often does one take a five-wicket haul on Test debut, finish with eight wickets in their first game and in the process, dismiss Hashim Amla twice. Overall, a fantastic 100th Test at The Oval for Joe Root’s side.
The momentous Test also staged Dean Elgar’s eighth hundred in the format, which is likely to be forgotten. It didn’t possess the flair of the Stokes century, the novelty of a ‘five-for’ on debut or the drama of Moeen Ali’s hat-trick. As Michael Atherton pointed out during the knock, it was ‘ugly’.
Dean Elgar played a crucial knock of 136 from 228 in the second innings of the third Test at The Oval
Though when you watch the highlights, the ‘ugliness’ does not surface. The guides down to third-man, the drives in front of the wicket, a couple of authoritative pulls off Stokes, even a lofted drive over mid-off to reach his hundred – the clipping compiles arguably the most insignificant part of the five and a half hour innings.
The video doesn’t show the swollen index finger – the result of a Ben Stokes bouncer in the final session of Day 4, the subsequent jarring blows which forced the batsman to repeatedly let go of the bat handle. Barring a boundary to fine-leg, it does not feature the inside-edges which ricocheted to his thighs or the deliveries he left close to the off-stump. It even skips past Elgar replacing the bat’s grip out in the middle, quite efficiently one must say, given how taxing that task could turn out.
The package showed runs. Runs were the least of Elgar’s concerns. The opener’s defiance against a very potent England bowling in English conditions was the focal point of his 228-ball innings.
A ‘Grind’ – probably the best term to describe this knock. He survived two early scares, both off James Anderson. An in-swinger struck on the pads and Aleem Dar did not approve the appeal, and Ball Tracking indicated the ball would have clipped the bails. He was given a second life by Keaton Jennings, dropping a sharp yet manageable chance at third slip. Elgar remained unfazed and carried on, with wickets tumbling at the other end. Heino Kuhn was bowled by Stuart Broad, Amla was caught in the slip cordon, Quinton de Kock was cleaned up by a Stokes yorker and Faf du Plessis replayed his first innings dismissal. Temba Bavuma made his presence felt at the crease, continuing from where he left off in the first innings. Both batsmen played through the evening session, giving the visitors a ray of hope on the final day.
Twelve overs into the morning session and Bavuma’s resistance was ended by the debutant Roland-Jones. Vernon Philander reenacted his captain’s dismissal, adjudged LBW leaving a ball crashing into off-stump. Elgar managed to bring up his century with a lofted drive for a boundary. He managed a smile, but probably knew that there was nothing much he could do anymore to avoid the inevitable. Chris Morris and Keshav Maharaj struck a few boundaries, but never looked like posing a threat.
Elgar’s innings came to an end 10 overs into the second session. A flighted delivery from Moeen Ali took the outside-edge and presented a simple catch to Stokes at first slip. Kagiso Rabada and Morne Morkel followed in consecutive deliveries, handing the off-spinner a Test hat-trick and England a 2-1 lead in the series.
In another part of the world, Shikhar Dhawan blazed to 190 before Tea on Day 1 of the Galle Test. His captain Virat Kohli scored a fluent 103 in the second innings. Neither batsmen had a lively pitch to worry about nor the bowling line-up, but those knocks will be regarded more entertaining than the one in London two days later. Pretty sure Elgar won’t care, like he doesn’t about the blows to his finger.
Post the game, the opener was asked about his index finger and whether he was going to get it checked out. He replied, “X-rays are a waste of money. I’m still ready to play the next game. It’s part of the game, you have to roll with the punches and take the blows when they come your way. I prefer not getting hit. It puts me in a different mind-set, like the challenge is a little bit more. I guess only an opening batsman could see it that way. You have to look at the bigger picture and that’s to try and contribute in a big way.”
Comparisons to former South Africa skipper Graeme Smith are plenty and justified. Both are cut from the same cloth, place a high price on their wicket, look mechanical when batting and defend their side from the threat of a new ball. Elgar may not headline the Proteas batting line-up, be the subject of a bidding war in an IPL auction or sell tickets like his compatriot AB de Villiers, but his grit has its own niche, in South Africa’s top-order.