If Dean Elgar had his way, the Wanderers Test would have been abandoned before he was hit in the face in the ninth over of South Africa's innings late on the third day. Play was called off 19 minutes before the scheduled close but resumed on the fourth morning. Elgar batted on to top-score with an unbeaten 86 but did not want any of those runs if it compromised his, or anyone else's safety, and referred to Philip Hughes' death in November 2014 as a warning of what could have happened on a pitch several former players have labelled unsuitable.
"I do think [it should have been called off earlier]. On day three, the wicket didn't play great. Batters got hit a hell of a lot of times. If there was a period to call it off, it was sooner," Elgar said. "We had an incident of being hit in the head, where we could have had an incident of what happened in Australia. People want to watch Test cricket but we are also human beings. We are not just going to take blows and accept putting our bodies on the line. The situation could have been addressed sooner."
A Jasprit Bumrah delivery, that replays showed had pitched back of a length, hit Elgar under the grille and prompted the umpires to take the players off the field. In consultation with the match referee they decided the match would continue and reasons have yet to be given for their decision. Elgar, though, appeared a little dazed as the incident took place and then had a concussion test on the third evening and again on the fourth morning to determine whether he could bat on. He admitted he was happy to leave the field when he was hit and would have wanted to come off even earlier to avoid the blow.
"I had already been peppered three or four times before that. I know what was spoken throughout the day and I know they had a feeling of this wicket not being the greatest. It was extremely freak," Elgar said. "I've faced many fast bowlers before and I know the Wanderers wicket has that steep bounce, but I have never experienced it like that. Which obviously put a bit of doubt in the umpires' minds. I can't think I would have played it any better because if it was that short on a wicket with bounce, it would have gone way over my head and at least given me some time to get out of the way. It's a freak moment and thankfully the umpires had sanity about the incident."
Faf du Plessis also saw that moment as the one that fuelled his worries about the pitch, which he repeatedly called excessive, but only once suggested was dangerous. "The only time I got a little bit concerned was when Dean got hit in the face. That's when I got a little bit concerned for player safety," du Plessis said. "Even in the Indian innings, there was quite a few guys that got hit on the finger quite regularly. I think if you count the number of times guys got hit, it was much more than usual. Excessive sideways movement is tough but not dangerous. As soon as guys started getting hit from a length, that's when we thought it might be dangerous. But surprisingly the pitch played fine again today, today was fine."
Despite no work being carried out on the pitch overnight, it seemed a different surface on the fourth morning. The first session was incident-free, with 52 runs scored and no wickets. That was the session in which Elgar's fight was at its finest. After an evening spent watching TV and "trying not to think about it too much" and seeing "Twitter enjoying my name", Elgar played an innings in which he showed "incredible mental toughness" something his captain du Plessis admired greatly.
"I think that is his biggest strength as a Test cricketer. He prides on being gritty, being tough, even being ugly and nasty at times. He likes that because it gets the best out of him. So he is a fighter, our little bulldog in the team," du Plessis said. "To bat on a wicket like that, any guy that scored runs in this Test, from our side or theirs, had to play a really good innings. Mentally, it's the biggest challenge after being hit a few times last night to come back this morning and put on a display of batting like he did was incredible."
Elgar admitted he was inspired by the level of difficulty because it required a different kind of batsman to succeed in the circumstances, someone less talented than the likes of AB de Villiers. "A lot of times in Test cricket you fight with yourself, especially on a wicket that is allowing seamers to be on top of you," he said. "You've got to find another way to put your mind out of your current situation. I wish there was another way, but being knocked is not the worst thing I've ever been through in cricket. It is something that gets me a little feisty out there and it does create a tenacious aspect which I try and use to my fullest."
And at the end, Elgar was left to fend for himself not once, but twice, at the Wanderers, though the second time was less serious. After being brought to the post-match press conference alongside du Plessis and sitting through his captain's question and answer session, Elgar watched du Plessis walk away when it was his turn to face the press.
"Leaving me in the trenches again," Elgar joked, as du Plessis walked away. "I'm used to it."
Despite being in favour of calling the match off, Elgar took a lot of pride from his efforts, even in a losing cause. "It's nice bruises. At least I have something to show for this Test match. It's a little personal reward I guess," he said.