How do you bowl to a batter like Dean Elgar?
He has an enviable ability to dismiss the previous delivery from his mind and it accounts for a lot of his success
You remember that over from Mohammed Siraj to Dean Elgar in Johannesburg, right? It was a miracle that Elgar didn't lose his wicket in those six balls, for every delivery seemed to have his name on it. He played and missed, he was hit on the body, and he played and missed some more.
Not only did he survive, he didn't allow that over to dent his resolve to stay in the middle for as long as possible. If South Africa were to pull off a heist at the Wanderers, they needed their captain in the middle till the end. And for that to happen, he had to take a few body blows, and more importantly, find a way as he faced up each time to forget what happened the previous ball.
It's tough to forget what just happened to you. If someone is impolite, the hurt stays with you, and you are filled with joy if someone has been nice to you. If it's so difficult to not allow trivial things to impact your day-to-day life, imagine how difficult it must be to forget when you're beaten all ends up multiple times by a similar sort of delivery, or when you've been hit on the body. It might be relatively easy to forget the mental scars momentarily - though some might rightfully disagree - but physical hurt is almost impossible to forget, for it really stings.
Elgar soaked in everything - the mental and physical bruises - and played every ball as if it were a brand-new event in a brand-new game. When he hit the winning runs in the Test, it felt like the unfinished business of 2018 was resolved. The pitch at the Wanderers back then was far more torturous, and the Indian attack in that game was a tad more venomous, and while Elgar carried his bat in the second innings then, he couldn't take his team to victory. This time it was different.
South Africa tend to produce gritty left-hand openers who are not really pleasing to the eye: Kepler Wessels, Graeme Smith, Gary Kirsten - and you can add Dean Elgar to that list.
Since most bowlers are so used to bowling to right-hand batters, sometimes they find it a little difficult to find effective ways to bowl to left-handers.
The first line of attack to Elgar is to stay over the stumps and angle the ball across his body. We have not just seen him play and miss a thousand times, we have also seen the ball find the outside edge. His first dismissal in this series was an outside edge to Jasprit Bumrah in that manner. On that occasion his front foot hardly moved and the ball didn't move enough to miss the outside edge. But ever since, the Indian bowlers have tried relentlessly to replicate that formula but found little success.
South Africa tend to produce gritty left-hand openers who are not really pleasing to the eye: Kepler Wessels, Graeme Smith, Gary Kirsten - and you can add Dean Elgar to that list
One must wonder: how does Elgar play and miss so many balls without edging? Well, the secret to his batting is to bring the bat down in a very straight path. That is, the downswing of the bat is in a straight line. That way his bat is never angular and the hands are trying to cover for the sideways movement away from him in the air and off the surface. This method is called playing inside the line. Elgar is so committed to it that he hardly hits the ball into the covers off the front foot.
Does that mean that bowling over the wicket and taking it across the batter is pointless? Definitely not. This will always remain the fast bowler's go-to plan against Elgar when the ball is new. Perhaps, though, there's merit in changing the line a little bit every now and then. Instead of pitching the ball within the stumps and taking it away always, the Indian bowlers could try bringing it back into him from a fourth-stump line. That way, the natural variation of the ball holding its line might take the ball closer to the outside edge. Mohammed Shami is best suited to bowling such a line.
The second plan against Elgar is to go round the stumps and bring the ball into him using the angle, but mixing it up with a bouncer or two every over. Elgar doesn't necessarily take on every bouncer that comes his way, but we have seen him be a little uncomfortable against the bouncer directed at his body, and round the wicket is the perfect angle to exploit that. Once again, since he doesn't take them on every time, it isn't guaranteed to succeed, but a mean bouncer is often capable of preventing a batter from committing to playing the next delivery on the front foot. And it works that way with Elgar too, once in a while.
These plans may or may not work in Cape Town but one thing is certain: Elgar will start a new innings as if he hasn't scored a run in the series thus far. Sometimes the best way to wear down such tenacious batters is to meet patience with patience. With Elgar it's about who blinks first. The Indian bowlers must ensure that they don't do so.
Former India opener Aakash Chopra is the author of four books, the latest of which is The Insider: Decoding the Craft of Cricket. @cricketaakash