India's top-order need to do it like Dean Elgar | Crickit
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India's top-order need to do it like Dean Elgar

By, Mumbai
Jan 02, 2024 10:54 PM IST

In tough conditions, the team counts on the top three to put a price on their wicket and see off the new ball

Only Dean Elgar knows how he survived the opening spell of Jasprit Bumrah and Mohammed Siraj at the Centurion ground last week. On a spicy pitch, the Indian pace duo was every bit as incisive as Kagiso Rabada was for South Africa. But Elgar’s warrior spirit was on full display. For the left-handed opening batter, it has never been about aesthetic appeal, his game is based on doggedness and a survival instinct that wants to get the job done for his team.

India's Rohit Sharma during a practice session ahead of the second Test cricket match between India and South Africa, at Newlands Cricket Ground, in Cape Town, South Africa, Tuesday, Jan. 2(PTI)
India's Rohit Sharma during a practice session ahead of the second Test cricket match between India and South Africa, at Newlands Cricket Ground, in Cape Town, South Africa, Tuesday, Jan. 2(PTI)

As India’s batters look to find a way to cope with the tough conditions in South Africa, they will do well to follow the template set by the SA veteran who will be playing his farewell Test.

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At Centurion, he walked away with all the plaudits for his epic 185 but for Elgar, it's never been about the centuries but the value of playing out the new ball and setting the foundation for the rest of the line-up. During the first Test, he again did his primary job well in the company of No 3 batter Tony de Zorzi by ensuring SA touched 100 for the loss of only one wicket.

It was in sharp contrast to India’s top-order's performance where the top 3 of Rohit Sharma, Yashasvi Jaiswal and Shubman Gill all fell cheaply in both innings. After being reduced to 24/3 in 11.1 overs in the first essay, they were three down for 52 runs in 14 overs in the second. It meant the South Africa bowlers remained fresh to have a go at India's middle-order. Only a heroic century by KL Rahul helped India cross the 200-run mark. In the second innings, there was no such bail out and the team crashed to a lowly 131 all out.

As India look to square the series, the onus is on Rohit, Yashasvi and Gill to emulate Elgar in the way he puts a price on his wicket and see off the new ball.

Rohit, Jaiswal and Gill are all modern batters who like to attack and set the tone for the game, a mindset which works in good batting conditions where you are trying to take the advantage of the new ball while it is still hard. But in South African conditions against the quality of their bowlers, it is a different level of challenge. They will be needed to play against their grain, concentrate mainly on staying at the wicket at all costs.

Yashasvi has shown it he can do that kind of role. During his debut hundred against the West Indies, he had batted with great patience playing 387 balls for his 171. During Rohit’s most successful overseas tour, 2021 England, he had also played against his grain, getting scores of 127 (256 balls), 36 (107 balls) and 59 (156 balls).

Gill will also do well to let the ball come onto his bat rather than play the forcing shots. If nothing else, it is a safer way of negotiating the new ball. At Cape Town, the top three will have their task cut out against the SA attack led by pace ace Kagiso Rabada.

There's no better education than observing an expert in actual game go about his stuff. The two youngsters, Jaiswal and Gill, have the chance to watch and learn how Elgar goes about his game in the tough conditions.

As their captain Rohit put it: “He (Elgar) has been their mainstay for a number of years, a quality player, somebody who puts high prize on his wicket. It will be important for us to get him early and see what the other batters do with him not being there. We know how important he is for them (SA), bats all the day, likes to score big runs, we got out plans, hope it works out for us."

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