JOHANNESBURG – Like a scene from a ‘buddy movie’, Dean Elgar and Aiden Markram will ride together to Potchefstroom on Tuesday morning.
Martin Lawrence and Will Smith developed “We ride together, we die together” as a slogan for their Bad Boys movies, and Elgar and Markram – while maybe not as hip – want to form a similar tight bond that will see them score runs together for a very long time.
Elgar wants it that way, and the Proteas Test team desperately needs it that way. For too long have South Africa struggled to settle on an opening combination.
Since Graeme Smith and Alviro Petersen’s retirement, Elgar has been a mainstay at the top of the order.
Smith and Petersen are two of seven different opening partners he’s had over the course of his career, but the other five – Stiaan van Zyl, Temba Bavuma, Stephen Cook, Theunis de Bruyn and Heino Kuhn – have all been selected at some stage in the last two years, a period encompassing 25 Tests, in which Elgar was absent once due to injury.
It’s no surprise then that he’s developed an answer for how all the changes affect him, and it is not a good reflection of the national selectors nor the players who have been picked to partner him at the top of the order.
“I think it’s unfair for a batting unit to be settled if your openers are unsettled. Your core with regards to a batting collective is the opening pair. They set it up for the rest to play naturally. We need some stability and we need some consistency,” Elgar explained on Monday.
There’s a strong argument that the selectors acted hastily in axing Cook, who’d scored three centuries in 11 Tests against attacks featuring some of the best fast bowlers currently playing.
The selectors have now thrown their lot in with 22-year-old Markram and are almost forced to back him throughout this summer, which includes challenging series against India and Australia.
“I’m extremely excited for Aiden. He’s proven over the last couple of seasons that he is a really special player,” said Elgar.
Last week the pair shared an opening stand of 184 for the Titans in the second innings of the opening Sunfoil Series match against the Dolphins at SuperSport Park.
Both made hundreds in that match.
“Hopefully we can have some longevity, we need that stability and some kind of consistency with regards to the opening combination. Hopefully we can have a few series and a few seasons together,” Elgar commented.
Many eyes will be fixed on Markram when the first Test against Bangladesh starts in Potchefstroom on Thursday.
Never mind just the opening spot, but in the long-term, he’s expected to step up to the captaincy too.
There’s an enormous amount of expectation regarding his future at the top of the game in this country, and Elgar admits part of their road-tripping talks on Tuesday will be about keeping things as simple as possible.
“He went from being Titans captain to Test opener in a week. He’s a highly special cricketer and a gifted player. He mustn’t forget that,” said Elgar.
“Test cricket can cloud your thoughts – because of who you are and who you’re playing for... the occasion with cameras around, you can get sidetracked. I guess it’s my job to ease his mind and make him feel welcome.”
Elgar’s importance to the Proteas in the last year cannot be understated. He’s the second highest run-scorer in Test cricket in 2017 with an aggregate of 767 runs, putting him second to India’s Cheteshwar Pujara (851).
Elgar’s consistency stems from a simple, single-minded thought process. “I’ve got no option – if I don’t do well in Test cricket, I don’t play international cricket. It’s not a bad way to look at it… It’s a harder mentality, that’s how I approach my game.”
The nuggety left-hander’s not sure what to expect from Bangladesh, nor the pitch in Potchefstroom, where he admits he’s played little cricket.
The lack of rain in the North West province may make preparing the pitch difficult, which could play into Bangladesh’s hands.
“They’ve had some success at home, but not that much away, possibly because they have to get accustomed to having their seam bowlers do more of the work than they have to do in Bangladesh.”