Dean Elgar still has ‘hunger and drive’ to keep leading South Africa

Dean Elgar insists he has the “hunger and the drive” to continue as South Africa’s Test captain after a second, successive series defeat and despite his own poor form.

Since taking over the captaincy mid-2021, Elgar has not scored a hundred and averages 28.40, with no scores over 36 in his last 10 innings. While he admitted he needs some time off, Elgar has committed to leading South Africa in their final assignment of this World Test Championship – a two-Test series against West Indies in February-March – and beyond.

“We’ve got two [Tests] and then potentially a lot of time off for myself for some gully cricket. Then the pressure is off a little bit. But, I enjoy the pressure. If [I was] scoring runs now, it would have been a lot easier to say yes [I want to continue] but obviously you’ve got to go into it and ask yourself those questions and I have. I still have the hunger and drive, no doubt,” Elgar said, after South Africa saved the Sydney Test.

In the post-match television interviews, Elgar was a little more bullish and said he believed he would “be back” among the runs after a disappointing 2022. Later, in the press conference, Elgar conceded that he was unhappy with the ways in which he has been dismissed in this series: strangled down leg three times in six visits to the crease.

“I can accept once, maybe twice, but the third time is something that highly irritates me,” he said. “And it’s something different for me. Generally you have a way of going out and bowlers target that. This is obviously something new and 10 years into a Test career, it’s foreign territory for me. It’s something to potentially reflect on and you can either say it’s s*** luck or not. I’m going to have an open mind around it and have a look. It’s just a bit frustrating that I could never get going through the series and when I did get going I managed to run myself out, which is also a massive no-no in Test cricket. All round, it’s extremely frustrating. I have actually been batting well, my build-up has been good. There’s been times where I have batted worse and I’ve actually got the performances, which is the ironic thing about this game.”

“Maybe I feel a little less [hurt and embarrassed] now. After the second game those two words would have been a lot stronger but after showing a hell of a lot of fight and some really positive signs in this game, it is sitting a lot better with me.”

Dean Elgar

But he will not be dissecting his technique just yet. With no SA20 contract to his name, Elgar intends to put his feet up through January and is targeting the second-half of the domestic four-day competition, which starts on February 12, to make a comeback. “I am taking as much time off as I want. That’s what I need at the moment,” he said. “There’s been a few conversations with me and the batting coaches to potentially do extra work but for now, I just want to get on a plane, and go home, chill out a bit, have a braai and maybe go to the bush and play some golf. Those are the small things that South Africans are deprived of when you go on a tour. I am just going to go home and clutch out a bit.”

He will be joined on the sidelines by his vice-captain Temba Bavuma, who also does not have an SA20 gig, his opening partner Sarel Erwee and middle-order batter Khaya Zondo while the rest of the Test squad will be part of the new T20 tournament. Both groups of players will have an opportunity to lick their wounds after what Elgar described as a chastening tour that has left some scars.

“We’re hurt and embarrassed,” he said. “Those things work hand in hand at the moment.”

However, South Africa’s batting effort on the final day of the series, where they scored 255 in their first innings – their highest in nine innings – and were 106 for 2 when the stumps were called has given Elgar some hope that things are not quite as bad as they seem.

“Maybe I feel a little less [hurt and embarrassed] now,” he said. “After the second game those two words would have been a lot stronger but after showing a hell of a lot of fight and some really positive signs in this game, it is sitting a lot better with me. Maybe I have had a week to get over the hurt and embarrassment and maybe that’s why it’s a little bit easier to speak about now.”

Still, South Africa cannot get away from the fact that they were totally outplayed across the series. Interim coach Malibongwe Maketa described it as losing “to a better team, more skilled and more experienced,” and called for South Africa to reassess. That includes everything from the composition of the top six to Maketa’s position, which will be filled permanently in the next few weeks.

There’s a strong feeling that South Africa may be forced to do a complete clean-out and reorganise their red-ball structure. At home, there is the sense an overhaul is in the air, and Elgar seems to know it’s coming, especially on the back of this tour. While he wants to be part of South Africa’s Test future, for now, he just wants to process what’s happened.

“I think you just have to be honest. Emotion is also part of our DNA. We are also human beings and we are allowed to show that,” he said. “We are an immensely proud nation and we play to win. When things don’t go your way, those kinds of things flow through your veins.”

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo’s South Africa correspondent

(With Inputs from ESPN)

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