Johannesburg - Australia’s series loss to the Proteas in 2018 and all the drama associated with it, may have been a chastening experience for the “Baggy Green” brigade, but Dean Elgar doesn’t expect it to make the current Australian team a “soft touch” in their three match-Test series.
The “sandpaper affair”, which caused ructions across the sport, led Australian cricket to undertake serious introspection. From pre-match handshakes to “elite honesty”, to Pat Cummins’ toothy grin, Australia have sought to sell themselves as a less boorish team.
However Elgar isn’t buying a new friendly approach from the Australians.
“Purely because we are playing there, I think it will still be pretty feisty,” Elgar said.
The first Test starts on December 17 at the Gabba, with the series then heading to Melbourne for the iconic Boxing Day Test and then Sydney for the New Year’s match at the storied Sydney Cricket Ground.
“It’s a childhood dream of mine to experience playing in a Boxing Day and New Year’s Test in Australia, it doesn’t get bigger than that,” said Elgar.
It will be South Africa’s first Tests at those two venues in over a decade. In that time, matches between Australia and SA have been among the most fiery encounters in the Test arena. Often times players have overstepped the mark, culminating in shouting matches on stairwells and sandpaper being rubbed on a ball.
However Elgar believes enough time has passed that Australia won’t be as diffident as the team that played the Wanderers Test match at the end of the 2018 series. “Australia comes with different external pressures, off the field, regarding things you have to be mindful of. The nature of the individuals they have in their team is that they are pretty brash and bold, in your face kind of characters,” the Proteas Test captain said.
“We enjoy that kind of confrontation, we manage it well and have calm heads around. If they want to be ‘in your face’ that is fine. I definitely don’t shy away from that, and I will be encouraging our players not to shy away from it, because that is when South Africans bring out their best character.”
Having won each of the last three Test series between the teams Down Under, the Proteas will be aware that Australia will be desperate to set the record straight. Coupled with the recent drama created by former coach Justin Langer’s remarks about players anonymously leaking information to the media about his style, the Australian team will be looking to deflect attention.
So expect South Africa to somehow have to take responsibility for the sandpaper affair, Faf du Plessis’ sucking on a mint to be rekindled and even SA’s recent embarrassing exit at the T20 World Cup to be used in an attempt to pick away at mental scarring.
For his part, Elgar wants his players to focus on the basics. “The style of cricket we have played in the last few years is tailor made for playing over there,” he said.
SA have the fast bowling to thrive Down Under, but it is the batting that remains a concern. “Playing in Australia, you have to master your basics, purely because the wickets are pretty good. We haven’t been good enough with the bat, we can’t hide away from that,” Elgar said.
In 12 Tests dating back to the series in the Caribbean last year, SA’s batters have scored only three hundreds, with one of those made by Quinton de Kock, who retired from the Test format last summer.
“Batters have to take responsibility,” said Elgar. “At the end of the day it is their career which is in their hands. There are a lot of guys that want to play for South Africa, who are chomping at the bit. It’s up to the batters, who’ve been given that responsibility to take that responsibility and the accountability with regards to their jobs, is something they really need to hammer now.”
Proteas squad for Australia tour: Dean Elgar (capt), Temba Bavuma, Gerald Coetzee, Theunis de Bruyn, Sarel Erwee, Simon Harmer, Marco Jansen, Heinrich Klaasen, Keshav Maharaj, Lungi Ngidi, Anrich Nortje, Kagiso Rabada, Lizaad Williams, Rassie van der Dussen, Kyle Verreynne, Khaya Zondo