SA coaches deserve 'a lot more respect' - Elgar
Dean Elgar has provided a forceful defence of South Africa's coaching staff, who have taken a public battering in the aftermath of the team's back to back series defeats. Head coach Russell Domingo and his slew of support staff were most heavily criticised by former captain Graeme Smith who questioned whether the management was getting the best out of the players and directing them in the right way. Elgar insisted they are.
"My words are pretty firm. What's been said in the media is quite wrong and a little bit hurtful. Our management deserve a lot more respect, especially by those guys who have worked with them before," he said. "People don't know what our management team do behind closed doors, with regards to their work ethic and giving guys freedom to prepare their own way. They have ticked all the boxes in my eyes."
Elgar found no fault with either preparation or personnel although he conceded a full-time batting coach could be a welcome addition to a backroom staff that includes two bowling coaches. "Our preparation has been brilliant. That's a non-negotiable for us," he said. "I do think a specialist batting coach would add a lot of value. I know there have been a few guys asked to help us, to a bit of a negative response. Even though you are playing for South Africa, you sometimes do need that little bit of fine-tuning from someone else that is just observing from the sidelines. I do think there will be a benefit for one in the squad. With regards to who it would be, I'm not sure."
South Africa have been through three batting consultants, Gary Kirsten, Mike Hussey and Smith, who played under Domingo for nine months between June 2013 and March 2014. In that time, South Africa drew a Test series against Pakistan in the UAE, beat India at home and lost to Australia. That period also saw the retirement of Jacques Kallis before Smith signed off from the international stage, putting the team into its greatest transitional period in a decade.
At first, it seemed South Africa would cope with the loss of big names. They won a series in Sri Lanka and beat Zimbabwe and West Indies under Hashim Amla. But the frailties began to show in India, where South Africa were beaten 3-0 on turning tracks, and the malaise has continued into the England series.
Injuries to key members of their pace pack - Vernon Philander and Dale Steyn - have hamstrung then in one department while a misfiring batting line-up, which has been bowled out for their two lowest scores since readmission in the last two series, has handicapped them in the other. As a result, there have been questions asked about the mental strength of the side and whether the behind the scenes dramas including transformation, uncertainty over AB de Villiers' long-term future and now, the domestic match-fixing scandal is bleeding into performance.
Elgar admitted the scrutiny around the team's performances had not gone unnoticed but insisted the team remained united. "The best is to try and laugh it off. If you let that affect you, it's taking a few steps back. I'm sure every player will say they don't read what's in the media, I do read the media," he said. "It is disheartening to hear those things in the media but the Test side is a tight unit. I know that the cricket doesn't reflect that, but we are. I can vouch for that. It is a little bit unpleasant hearing it in the media. That's their opinions. I know from where I sit the Proteas are a strong unit."
But they are also a changing unit, and that may be the biggest difference between them and a settled England side. "The English players seem to know their game very well. Two years ago, they were in a similar position to us. They were getting a beating by Australia or another team. Their players have adapted very quickly. It seems like they know their role very well.
"They have a lot of impact players within their side. Ben Stokes adds a huge advantage with bat and ball and fielding at gully. They're also a very experienced unit. Especially with ball in hand, you can see they know their stuff. They're highly skilled and focused and they know what to do on the international circuit."
South Africa's experience has been whittled down to that extent that even Elgar, who has only played 24 Tests, is now considered part of a senior core, especially when it comes to the top two. Given that Elgar is the experienced opener he is expected to anchor the innings, something he wants to work harder on.
"I have been reasonably happy but in the same breath very frustrated as well. I've got three 40s, which if people know me, that really grinds me," he said. "I would rather go out for zero than in the 40s or 50s, when the hard work has been done. All you have to do then is apply yourself a little bit more. There are still two more innings in the series and I'll try and make it count."
If he can, it may strengthen his case as a candidate for the Test captaincy, which will be decided on during the winter break. De Villiers remains the frontrunner for the job but Elgar, who could have more years left than de Villiers, has been picked to lead the South African A side against England in a fifty-over warm-up match and may now start mulling the possibility of the main job.
"Since school cricket I was someone that wanted to lead from the front. I wanted to be the best in the side. It was something that was drilled into me from a young age. Irrespective of who you are playing against. It's about pride," he said. "If it had to come my way, it's something I will have to think long and hard about. I don't think it's something that's very easy. I know it's something a lot of guys take very seriously."
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent