Elgar’s decision to bat first in second ENG vs SA Test baffling: Gavaskar

South Africa’s Dean Elgar has the image of a tough no-nonsense captain, who is unafraid to take the tough decisions and is prepared to take the blows for his team. But his decision to bat first on an overcast cloudy day in Manchester led to his team’s defeat in the Test match against England. 

Paying the price: South African skipper Dean Elgar’s defence is breached by England’s veteran paceman James Anderson during the second innings of the second Test match in Manchester. England won the match by an innings and 85 runs to level the series.

Paying the price: South African skipper Dean Elgar’s defence is breached by England’s veteran paceman James Anderson during the second innings of the second Test match in Manchester. England won the match by an innings and 85 runs to level the series. | Photo Credit: AP

South Africa’s Dean Elgar has the image of a tough no-nonsense captain, who is unafraid to take the tough decisions and is prepared to take the blows for his team. But his decision to bat first on an overcast cloudy day in Manchester led to his team’s defeat in the Test match against England. 

Over a period, the way a player performs gets him/her an image, an identity, and though it may not always be accurate it usually sticks with them throughout their career. An image, nicknames are what the fans and media like to give a player. They do it mostly out of admiration and love, but the odd image and nickname could also be a jibe at a player.

The trouble starts especially in a team sport when the player starts to believe in that image and looks to live up to it, often forgetting what the team needs in a particular situation. Quite often the consequences are disastrous for the team.

One such instance was seen in the just concluded England-South Africa Test match at Old Trafford, Manchester. Dean Elgar has the image of a tough no-nonsense captain, who is unafraid to take the tough decisions and is prepared to take the blows for his team. His decision to bat first on an overcast cloudy day in Manchester (when is it otherwise?) left his team vulnerable against the English seam attack and his team were bowled out for a paltry 151. They hit back and had the England team reeling with three wickets down by the end of the first day, which showed what the Proteas bowlers could have done if they had the opportunity to bowl first in those overcast conditions. Remember, just a few days earlier the Proteas fast bowling attack had blown away England in the first Test, winning it by an innings inside three days. Was Dean Elgar trying to live up to his tough image by opting to bat first despite the conditions clearly weighing against batting first?

Tactically too, it was questionable because his bowlers held the psychological advantage over England’s batting after demolishing them in the previous game. In conditions that would have made life tough for the English batters, the home team would have been relieved to see the South African captain choosing to bat first. It brought England back in the series as their bowlers took full advantage of the conditions and dismissed South Africa cheaply. England skipper Ben Stokes and wicketkeeper Ben Foakes hit sparkling hundreds to give England a good lead after which England’s bowlers bowled South Africa out cheaply again to win the game and level the series.

Elgar’s decision was as baffling as that of Tim Paine, who a couple years earlier in the second Test match in Melbourne chose to bat first despite his fast bowlers having bowled India out for only 36 runs (in the second inning of the first Test), their lowest total in a Test match. A shell-shocked India had also lost their captain who returned home for a family condition. In such a situation instead of ramming home the advantage and that too on a pitch which had three millimeter more grass covering than the previous Test match, Paine chose to bat first. India’s bowlers bowled superbly to restrict Australia to under 200 and then just like Stokes’s captain’s knock in Manchester, Indian skipper Ajinkya Rahane’s century helped India put up a good score and take the lead. The bowlers bowled brilliantly once again to help India win the Test and level the series. India played superlative cricket in the next two Tests and won the final Test to win the series in style.

Paine became the Australia skipper more by accident than design in the aftermath of the ‘Sandpaper Incident’ in South Africa and apart from chirping behind the stumps has done nothing outstanding to be remembered in the history of cricket. The Indian fans, though, will remember him for his lack of tactical acumen that allowed a team dismissed for 36 to come back and win two out of the remaining three Test matches and win a series that will forever be cherished in Indian cricket.

If England go on to win the third and final Test match and seal the series, then it will simply be because the opposition captain tried to live up to his image as a tough guy and ended up taking a call that backfired on his team.

Yes sir, an image is often an illusion, but reality is what life is all about.

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