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News

Dean Elgar revels in South Africa's 'positivity' after winning Lord's Test in style

Stokes rues lack of first-class preparation but vows defeat is 'not a wake-up call'

Andrew Miller
Andrew Miller
19-Aug-2022
Captain Dean Elgar is elated after Anrich Nortje dismissed Alex Lees and Ben Foakes in the space of three balls, England vs South Africa, 1st Test, Lord's, London, 3rd day, August 19, 2022

Captain Dean Elgar is elated after Anrich Nortje dismissed Alex Lees and Ben Foakes in the space of three balls  •  ECB/Getty Images

Dean Elgar praised his South Africa team for the "positivity" that they brought to their crushing innings victory over England in the first LV= Insurance Test, as they cemented their status at the top of the World Test Championship table in barely six sessions of high-octane cricket at Lord's.
After coming into the contest off the back of their own innings defeat against England A at Canterbury last week, Elgar's South Africa showed it had processed the lessons of that contest quickly. However, it was the two key absentees from that contest, Kagiso Rabada and Anrich Nortje, who combined to devastating effect as England were routed for 165 and 149 across just 82.4 overs all told.
Rabada was duly named Player of the Match for his seven wickets, including 5 for 52 in England's first innings, but Nortje was the game-breaker on day three, as he steamed in with speeds touching 95mph to rout England's middle order with three for none in ten balls in the mid-afternoon, including England's star batter of the summer, Jonny Bairstow, for the second time in the match.
"I definitely didn't think that waking up this morning," Elgar said during the post-match presentations, when asked if he had envisaged such a swift denouement, given his side had come into the day with an overnight lead of 124 and three first-innings wickets remaining. "I was thinking the guys have got to bat long and hard and try and extend that lead, and when it's our turn to come and bowl, we've got to put the ball in the right area thinking it might flatten out.
"But Nortje's spell was something that just broke the back," he added. "He ran in with a lot of intent and a lot of anger, and it was great to watch from where I was fielding, I'm sure it wasn't nice to face."
The build-up to the series had been dominated by Elgar's responses in the media to England's so-called "Bazball" style of play, and while he did not double down on his previous suggestion that their ultra-positive methods could leave them with "egg on their faces", he did quietly talk up South Africa's own emerging brand of cricket - one which has already secured them an impressive 2-1 home series win against India this year, as well as a come-from-behind 1-1 drawn series in New Zealand.
"My [captaincy] decisions come with a lot of positivity into the camp," he said. "We want the guys to go out and express themselves. Even though we play in a South African way, it's our way, it's a unique way, and slowly but surely we're building on that. For me, the toss is just a decision that one guy has to make and the rest have to follow, and the guys are doing a great job with that. I'm very grateful with the young squad that I have."
Elgar also joked that he had come into the game with pressure to perform from his coach, Mark Boucher, who won two of his three Tests at Lord's between 1998 and 2003. "The coach gave me a bit of a summons, he was like, 'I've got a very good record as a player here'," he said. "But this is a brilliant day for us.
"I've got a very good think-tank behind the scenes," he added. "We've got good coaches with a lot of advice, and I process the advice as well. Sometimes you just go with gut and a bit of luck. Things worked out today, with Kesh [Maharaj] obviously getting a few wickets and then bringing on Anrich who bowls with the speed of light when he gets it right. But I never settle for what I have, I'm always trying to get better with my job."
For his opposite number, Ben Stokes, it was a chastening setback after the highs of England's early-season performances, in which they won four Tests in a row with a series of 240-plus run-chases. This time around, they were asked to bat first and floundered against both a high-octane bowling attack, and also the uncertainty of having to set the agenda rather than react to it.
"Obviously, we're disappointed to lose. It'd be silly for me to say anything different," Stokes said. "But if we dive into this too much, about one result in a three-match series, then we're not looking forward to what's coming ahead. Now we've got two more games to bounce back from this. And then hopefully, take the series 2-1."
The crushing manner of the defeat, Stokes added, would not deflect the team from continuing in their recent proactive manner.
"Absolutely not," he said. "I look at captains before me, captains after me. They're always going to get criticised at certain times about the way that they want to play. That's just part and parcel with life, I guess.
"We know that, when we perform to the capabilities that we're capable of, then we can go out and put some incredible performances like everybody's been able to see in the four games before this. This isn't a wake-up call or anything like that. It's just, unfortunately, we were unable to execute in the way that we wanted to play this week against South Africa."
Stokes did, however, hint that the ECB's white-ball focus had been a factor in his team losing some momentum from the highs they had achieved against New Zealand and India six weeks earlier. Unlike South Africa, England's players did not have the benefit of a red-ball warm-up match to reacquaint themselves with the longer game's rhythms, and he suggested that would be an issue worth considering for the future.
"I don't want to use that situation as an excuse whatsoever. Maybe there could be an opportunity to put a first-class game in there for the lads to go off and just get out there in the field, whether it be a bowler or a batter, but I think if I'm looking at that and using that as an excuse, it's not really what I want to be saying."

Andrew Miller is UK editor of ESPNcricinfo. @miller_cricket