Dean’s school of batting: Skill and a lot of heart

NEW DELHI : One man who wasn’t surprised when Dean Elgar smashed a six to bring up his most positive, aggressive hundred of his career in these conditions was his long-time coach Louis Klopper. Klopper was at his school in South Africa, following the match online and trying to get an occasional glimpse on television. He laughed when asked if Elgar’s refreshing approach on the verge of the milestone took him by surprise. Elgar’s wonderful 160 and Quinton de Kock’s stroke-filled 111 propelled South Africa’s heart-warming fight that has perked up the series, which looked dire after the visiting team’s top order perished on Thursday evening.

“You thought you would see the 2015 version, eh?” Klopper is still laughing, referring to Elgar’s horror series the last time he was in India. In that fateful series, Elgar had made just 137 in 7 innings at an average of 19.5.

“I am not surprised but really happy and I will tell you why: This is how he used to play in his younger days, before his international debut. A free-flowing batsman who would dominate. He slowly changed in character as he grew, and he knows his role as a Test opener demands that he puts in the hard yards for the sake of the team,” Klopper says.

Back in XI, back among wickets, R Ashwin rediscovers love for the game

Elgar’s was a knock full of heart and skill. Whenever Ashwin flighted one on a driveable length, Elgar stretched out for drives and lofted hits down the ground. Very soon, they had to place boundary-patrollers. There was a lovely cover drive early on against Ashwin that warmed the heart of his father Richard, and right away he knew he could be in for a special day. He too couldn’t see the full knock as he has been busy with shifting homes but had one eye on the game and did catch up on the hundred moment. “Jah! I did see that!”

Elgar’s wonderful 160 and Quinton de Kock’s stroke-filled 111 propelled South Africa’s heart-warming fight.

It wasn’t a surprise that Elgar was harsh on Ravindra Jadeja as he has the fourth-highest strike rate in the world against left-arm spinners since 2010, plundering at 4.91 runs per over against them. It helped South Africa that Jadeja was, for the most part, expensive and not his usual metronomic self, often dropping the ball short or over-compensating with overpitched deliveries.

Both Klopper and Elgar Senior were particularly pleased by how he tackled Ashwin with aplomb. He used the feet well to drive and loft, deployed the square-slash on the front foot, and strived to play as close to the body as possible. When he got to that hundred, Ashwin gave him a generous applause, acknowledging the victor of the battle. He stood on the middle stump guard, with his bat on the off stump line for Ashwin. For Jadeja, at times, he stood on the off-stump line. Both ploys worked well to nullify the spinners.

Last time, when Elgar was in India, the pitches were beastly turners and he couldn’t cope. When he went back home, he told his father that he was caught with his pants down and needed to find a way. “He is a very stubborn lad, once he puts his mind to anything, he does it,” Richard says.

Elgar needed all that bloody-mindedness as he has been underappreciated by fans in his country. “In the past, I haven’t been given a lot of credit for what I have done. I don’t think there is a big relationship between me and South African cricket fans. A lot of time what I have done has been brushed under the carpet,” he had told this newspaper last year.

It would be very difficult for the fans to brush away this knock, though. It was the intent that stood out. They were four wickets down pretty early in the third morning but Elgar kept on pressing ahead. He didn’t have a clear plan last time around here, switching from slog-sweeps against the turn and hard-pushes, to even an unwise reverse-sweep that had prompted Klopper, the coach, to share this nice moment: “I used to always tell him — you reverse-sweep only after you get a hundred. But he played one shot there and later told me that he immediately thought of me — that he shouldn’t have played it!”