South Africa v Australia, 2nd Test, Port Elizabeth, 1st day February 20, 2014

Elgar shows SA what they are missing

Two days after being dropped from the list of contracted players, Dean Elgar demonstrated the technique and composure needed to face down Mitchell Johnson and co

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After surviving a hostile first spell from Mitchell Johnson, who bowled the first 12 balls he faced, waiting 20 deliveries and 42 minutes to get his first run, seeing Faf du Plessis accelerate past him but not caring as he perfected his own timing and placement and finding the space to bat with relative freedom, Dean Elgar finally ran out of patience. Who could blame him after the week he has had.

On Sunday, Elgar would have started dreaming of a Test recall after hearing Ryan McLaren was ruled out of the Port Elizabeth match. By Monday, he may even have sent his whites to get washed in anticipation of playing when he heard Andrew Hudson, the convener of selectors, say the No. 7 position could be filled by an extra batsman and that person would come from within the squad. Elgar was the only extra batsman in the original 15.

On Tuesday, he would have shelved all thoughts of that, or of playing for South Africa in the near future. That was the day he learned that from April, he will no longer receive a salary from Cricket South Africa. Elgar was one of two players in the Test squad, the other being Thami Tsolekile, who were cut from the contract list.

On Wednesday morning, Elgar would not have known what to think. Graeme Smith appeared worn down by the timing of the contracts announcement, called it a "curveball" and said if a player had been left off it and got the opportunity to play, they should use it to prove they are worthy. By the afternoon, Elgar would have known he was playing and may have thought the captain's words were an instruction to him to show defiance.

But it was only much later in the day that Elgar would have been sure not only that he would be in the XI but that he would be batting in his preferred position at the top of the order. He would also have known that the only other time he has played against Australia in a Test, his debut, he recorded a pair and that just last week he dropped David Warner when he came on as a substitute fielder in Centurion. It was a chance he should have taken. So was this one, which is why it was so important that he did not fumble.

Even if Elgar's confidence was at its highest, he would still have been nervous given that he was tasked with the most difficult job of the day: to see off the man who decimated the top order at SuperSport Park. Elgar may not have thought it would be that tricky when the first delivery Johnson served up was off target and went down leg.

From the next one, he would have been sure what he was up against. It was full and straight and although not very quick at 137 kph, Elgar instinctively tried to flick it away on the leg side and hit it to short leg. The traps were all set and Elgar would have known the only way to win the battle was to stay patient.

For the next three-quarters of an hour, Elgar showed what it takes to see off Johnson and proved he has the temperament to play Test cricket. He fronted up the way a Test opener should, got behind the line of Johnson's deliveries and defended with the determination of a man whose livelihood was on the line.

The St George's Park surface did not offer Johnson as much in terms of bounce and carry but he was still quick, his bouncer was still fearsome and his fuller delivery threatened to sneak through Elgar's stronghold at any moment. Elgar didn't let it. He kept out the ones that looked like they would break his toes, left anything wide outside off and slowly trusted himself to start moving forward to deliveries instead of hanging back in his crease.

After five overs, which included Smith's dismissal, he had a ball trickle away off his hip for a leg bye. After two more deliveries, he saw Hashim Amla pinned on the pads by one that, on first glance, looked like it had pitched outside leg. Amla was given out and went to consult Elgar about reviewing. Given the stature of the man at the other end, there might have been pressure on Elgar to encourage Amla to seek a second opinion, but he stuck to his guns. Elgar told Amla he thought it was out. He was right.

All this happened before he had scored a run. South Africa were two down with only 11 on the board. None of those runs belonged to the two men at the crease. Things could have unravelled very quickly but Elgar ensured they did not.

Du Plessis tried a few things, Elgar did not. He just presented his best impression of an impenetrable wall and left it there. When du Plessis got a short ball, despite the square leg in place, he pulled. When Elgar did, he either left it or ducked. When du Plessis got a half volley from Peter Siddle on the pads, he put it away. When Elgar got a similar length from Nathan Lyon, he defended.

And then, after 11-and-a-half overs that seemed like a lifetime, Elgar brought out his slog-sweep. He sent Lyon over midwicket in a moment of aggression that took everyone by surprise but announced Elgar's arrival. Then he disappeared back into his concentration zone and kept going.

His concentration was impeccable despite the chirping from the Australians, which may have been about his employment status, and the one he wore on the shoulder from Johnson, which raced to him at 145kph and thundered into him as he realised he was in a bad position to do anything other than get hit. He did as AB de Villiers said and did not show any fear.

He valued his wicket enough not to make any mistakes and with his caution came confidence. Elgar is a classy player with a range of elegant shots that he brought out as the afternoon went on. He played a little more away from his body to drive through the covers, pushed another one wide of mid-off, beat the cover fielder later on and tucked one off his hips to square leg.

Although his half-century came up with an edge past the slips, other than that, he looked a man in control of what he was doing. He placed the ball where he wanted it to go, he threaded the fielders, he was on his way to a hundred and he should have got there.

And then all that hard work disappeared when he decided to hit Lyon over midwicket and skied it. His magic number is 83 now. On Friday morning, Elgar will still not have a national contract but he has given those who issue the documents a reason to wonder whether they made a mistake.

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent

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