Sri Lanka v South Africa, 1st Test, Galle, 1st day July 16, 2014

Elgar lauds Sri Lanka's quicks

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'Would be happier if we lost fewer wickets' - Elgar

Dean Elgar learnt quite a few things during his first Test innings in Galle - when the best time to score runs is, how to hang tough when they dry up, and the importance of a good partnership. After spending two-thirds of the day in the middle, Elgar was a first-hand observer to most of the day's bowling, and he has realised what the pacemen should do on what might otherwise be considered as a graveyard for their skills.

"The Sri Lankan seamers are very good exponents of their own conditions The minute the ball started getting soft, they started changing their paces and bowling the odd cutter," Elgar said. "It was almost like one-day disciplines." South Africa's pace pack will be led by Dale Steyn, who may have been disappointed with the lack of swing on offer despite the heavy humidity but will hope his team will be better at achieving reverse-swing.

In other words, it will be up to Vernon Philander to put into effect some of the variations, though Elgar admitted the going could be tough early on. "The easiest time to score is off the new ball," he said.

That is why South Africa will have to rely heavily on spin, with even the possibility Elgar getting a bowl. His left-arm spin is still spoken about as comic relief, a myth perpetuated by the man himself because of his constant reference to what he can offer, and a certain pasty which he brought up again after the first day. "Pies get wickets as well," Elgar joked. Just ask Misbah-ul-Haq. But Elgar was not being entirely frivolous when he mentioned the role he may have to play with ball in hand.

"We are fortunate in that JP [Duminy] has improved massively as a spinner. You can regard him as a frontline spinner," he said. "And then Immie has been around. He is going to be our No.1. Then you get myself. I can contribute and do a job. It's just another part of your game, that you have to work on, especially as I am not a natural bowler but I enjoy doing it."

Elgar has 37 first-class wickets to his name. Although they have come at a costly average of 51.94, Elgar can be a partnership breaker and that may just be what South Africa will need.

But before they consider that, they will have to ensure they get as close as possible to the target they set for themselves in the first innings. "Four hundred is usually a mark you want to be at," Elgar said, admitting that South Africa were on course to get there but veered off it in the final session when Sri Lanka surged back with four wickets.

"With us losing two quick ones towards the end, maybe the mark shifted a bit but I'd still like to us push as close as possible to that mark. We would have loved to have been one wicket down, but such is the nature of the beast. We've got to edge closer to that mark and we know its' going to be a tough day tomorrow but we've still got batsman in hand."

Quinton de Kock and Dale Steyn are the overnight batsmen and South Africa still have JP Duminy and Vernon Philander. Both have put up strong resistance to attacks in the past and seen South Africa through challenging periods. Elgar had some advice for them from his own experience.

"You just have to find a way - something that works for you," he said. "Luckily you are not alone out there. You have a team-mate which helps. Communicating is quite important. Faf and I get on very well and on the field we seem to get on very well. We've had some good partnerships and we know what makes each other tick."

De Kock and Steyn are good friends, and were also team-mates in the IPL last season for Sunrisers Hyderabad, while Duminy and Philander are comrades at franchise level for the Cape Cobras.

If Elgar's words are anything to go by, South Africa can rest a little easier on Wednesday night.

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent