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Dean Elgar applauds his pacers for firing warning shots in short Gabba burst

South Africa captain feels his attack managed to open up "old scars" by roughing up Australia's top order despite a tiny target to work with

Firdose Moonda
Firdose Moonda
18-Dec-2022
Dean Elgar defended South Africa's latest blowouts  •  AFP/Getty Images

Dean Elgar defended South Africa's latest blowouts  •  AFP/Getty Images

Despite losing the Gabba Test in two days, Dean Elgar is confident South Africa still managed to fire a warning shot against Australia with their strong pace pack.
South Africa's four quicks took 14 Australian wickets in the match, including four in the successful second-innings chase of 34. Had South Africa scored "another 60 runs", Elgar said, they might have been able to claim the unlikeliest of victories. Still, Elgar believes they've shown the Australian line-up what they are made of.
"It was to try and open some old scars, to bring in our intensity and maybe get them three or four down so those batters go to Melbourne with maybe less confidence," Elgar said. "It worked out nicely. The result aside, it was one of the game plans that worked out for us over the last two days. I can't say there were many."
In particular, the short-ball strategy worked for Kagiso Rabada, who has snapped out of his T20 funk (he was South Africa's least successful bowler at the T20 World Cup) and got into his role as Test spearhead. He finished the Brisbane Test with eight wickets and is now the leading bowler in Test cricket in 2022, with 45 wickets at 20.04, two ahead of Nathan Lyon.
"It gives us confidence," Elgar said. "He is a massive figure for us, not just in our bowling group but in our 16-man squad. When he puts his hand up like that it's difficult not to follow."
Among Rabada's victims was David Warner, whom he removed for a golden duck in the first innings and for 3 in the second. Warner is the only batter Rabada dismissed twice in the match and he has now got rid of him six times in seven Tests. Rabada targeting Warner appeared to be a well-planned tactic to take advantage of a player in a slump. Since his last Test fifty against Pakistan in Lahore, Warner has scored 169 runs in 10 Test innings, and his average in 2022 of 20.61 is the lowest for a calendar year in his Test career.
But Elgar said South Africa were not specifically going after him alone. "It's not just him. It's all of them. We are always trying to find another way to have an edge over your opposition. If this was a way of getting into their minds further, brilliant. I know a guy like KG is the most feared bowler we have here, purely because of his reputation and record. If he has got that confidence running into the next Test, it's brilliant for us."
Elgar noted how the rest of the attack respond when Rabada is at his best. "What you find is that really got [Anrich] Nortje fired up as well and he was starting to crank it up even more," he said. "Hopefully that can inspire our batting unit to get their heads right and to knuckle down and get some performance under their belt for us."
"I can't see us hitting more balls and becoming better cricketers. We have played enough cricket in our personal careers and guys know their games really well, so hitting another 100 or 200 balls is not going to make you a better cricketer."
Dean Elgar
Well documented as South Africa's weaker suit, their line-up slumped to a new low in Brisbane. They were dismissed for under 200 in both innings to make 2022 the year in which they've racked up their most sub-200 scores: eight times. They've had a lean World Test Championship run, with only two centuries in the campaign, the least among the competing teams, and they appear to lack both confidence and the ability to apply themselves. Still, Elgar defended their latest blowouts.
"The guys in the change-room have played enough cricket to know this was one of those instances where we need to be honest and real about what's just happened," he said. "It's not like our guys were throwing wickets away. We were getting absolutely jaffered out and they bowled properly," he said. "That's the way I will be approaching that. Coming into this game, our batters were confident. We prepared well and we played the warm-up game. It's not like the confidence was low."
With a week between games, Elgar won't be demanding any extra nets or time with the analyst. "I can't see us hitting more balls and becoming better cricketers. We have played enough cricket in our personal careers and guys know their games really well, so hitting another 100 or 200 balls is not going to make you a better cricketer," he said. "I speak from a personal point of view. It's just one of those games where you failed. I am still confident going into the next one. We will definitely break it down and have chats. I would rather see the guys not do anything until we get to Melbourne. That's just me."
He also hopes they don't get too wrapped up in their own heads and enjoy the occasion of being in Australia over the festive season, which no South African team has done since 2008. "Guys need to tap into their mental spaces, which can be the biggest enemy, because you can really withdraw yourself instead of dealing with what's happened and facing it," he said.
Asked if South Africa would consider changes to their XI, including an extra batter, Elgar said "all options are on the table" but repeated his preference for a six-five split, to accommodate the specialist spinner. "The option of seven-four was a talking point but I like having a specialist spinner. We didn't even get to day three let alone four or five where the wickets are going to spin so Kesh's [Keshav Maharaj] role was nullified by the game being over in two days," he said. "I am still very much a captain who wants a spinner because he gives us a lot of control and allows our seamers to have a break where we can rotate them from one end but all options are open going into the next one."
Elgar confirmed that if South Africa were to include an extra batter, "Theunis de Bruyn is the next batter in".

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent