It was that kind of a game where even those that abhorred batsmen and their ilk would have felt sorry for them. The sight of a cricket ball buzzing past the batsman’s face, beating the bat, thudding into his ribs and cracking his fingers brought back memories of an era where the fast bowler was skill and brutality combined, an agent of hell! Well, almost.
The Bull-ring had chosen to live up to that name. It surely was a fight- tough, gory and relentless. After how the teams batted in the first innings, it seemed unlikely that they would fare any better in their second opportunities. Then, the Indian batsmen finally began demonstrating their ability. They all, apart from the inexplicably brilliant Kohli, had not truly dug into their stockpiles of skill, temperament and will until then, in order to be their best. It was indeed pleasurable to watch Vijay regain his judgment of the line of the delivery, but what was better was how he clawed his way back into some sort of form. What Rahane did, was something akin to shirking off all the muck that had piled on him owing to his poor form. It was spectacular, to put it mildly. This along with a late flourish by the bowlers had given India a chance of pushing the South Africans down the canyon of defeat for the very first time in the series. The victory of Johannesburg will remain a point that will silence any criticism of the current Indian setup, for a long time, for here, finally, every man had answered the call of duty, emphatically!
Valiance and greatness in this sport, do not always catch our eye, especially if it is not an Indian story. Hence the Dean Elgar innings is to us what it is today. An 80 something that couldn’t prevent his side from losing the game, a harrowing sight that made the game look ugly, a collage of mistimed strokes and misread lines, a monologue- dreary, stammering and forgetful. After all, it wasn’t colorful or ‘poster boy’ stuff. Unfortunately here, we as a breed overly obsessed only with its team do this game and the rest of those that celebrate it with equal gaiety, a great disservice. We also put ourselves impossibly far from enjoying such acts, things that would have otherwise remained on our tongues and in our hearts for a very long time, had an Indian done so.
Dean Elgar’s dogged innings
Elgar makes it very tough for an audience to afford the innings any special attention, for his is not the most popular of names. He also makes it very hard for an honest lover of cricket to ever forget him even if he were to retire at this very moment- for how he went on in that innings, taking blow after blow, getting beaten ball after ball and eking out runs in between. On a capricious pitch, where every delivery posed a threat, Dean Elgar, having not done much throughout the series managed to find a way to survive. When his determination fused with the serenity that Amla always brings to the crease, the game seemed to have found some balance. When one saw his more famous colleagues capitulate under the pressure, one wouldn’t need more reason to applaud Elgar’s knock. He never looked settled, but he never cared about looks. That was test match batting, generally celebrated as a fine art bestowed upon a blessed few, being demonstrated in a form drenched in grit and carrying the stench of sweat. It was magnificent nonetheless. That was also the epitome of resistance. It was one man’s will against everything else. That it fell short of the ultimate goal should never dim its worth!
When old pals meet and test cricket becomes their conversation, it eventually swerves into times when players have faced the odds and have overcome it. There will also be a mention of a favourite innings and a similar spell, so will be an unforgettable memory of a contest between bat and ball. The beauty of a game is best demonstrated when its ardent lovers reminisce their favourite moments and talk fondly of their memories and test cricket is no different in this aspect. What Elgar’s innings deserves is a place in memory and the freedom to gush into thought when nostalgia is summoned. If he goes on to become a great player, his more tangible accomplishments may dwarf this one, but God forbid, if he doesn’t, he most certainly will never be remembered much. Sadly, this makes his knock which is worth remembering for a long time, highly unlikely to be remembered at all.
Can we not raise a toast in the honour of a captivating beauty- an innings of great character, merit, substance- its greatness heightened by how troublesome the pitch was and how close yet how far it left its team from victory and how it refused to be cowed into submission?
Mr. Elgar, that was a magnificent innings and it glorified test cricket! If time understood the game, albeit only faintly, it would never forget your effort and its worth.