Dean Elgar is thrilled to be back in England for the start of the new county season, and don’t be surprised if he becomes a regular member of the Championship circuit for a long time to come.
The opener, who has made 11 centuries in 49 Tests for South Africa, was a last minute addition to the Surrey squad after Mitchell Marsh broke down on the cusp of the season.
At age 30, the left-handed Elgar is determined to continue plundering runs for the Proteas for a long time yet, but speaking on the eve of his new club’s season opener, flagged that he could see himself becoming a full-time member of the county scene later on his in career.
“I’m still very happy playing Test cricket,” he said, citing his interest in short-term deals like the one he has signed for Surrey, through to the end of May. “I’d definitely like to look at it as a long-term plan to potentially come here and do a little bit for county cricket.”
Elgar joked his entry to the country this time around was a “little bit rushed” given only two weeks ago his winter plans were to rest before South Africa come together again to play Sri Lanka in July, but when the call came from Alec Stewart, he was very happy to take it.
“I have been to Surrey before, it made my decision quite easy to come back,” he said. “I’ve fond memories at The Oval. I scored a Test century against England here, which was pretty special and right up there as a career highlight.”
When he walks out against Hampshire in the club’s first game of the season, it will be at number four – the position that Kumar Sangakkara made his own over the last three seasons.
“It is something I am not really familiar with doing but I have done it in the past with various different sides back home,” he said of the shuffle down the list, necessary to retain the Mark Stoneman and Rory Burns union at the top. “So yeah, it is a new challenge for everyone and a new challenge for me. So I will just have to adapt to the position, what the team needs.”
Sangakkara put the cue in the rack at age 39 in September at the end of a championship campaign that netted an extraordinary 1491 runs at 106.7 while rattling off centuries against every other county in the top flight. It’s a record, Elgar says, that “nodody will come near.”
“He is always someone I have looked up to as a cricketer being a left-handed batter as well, trying to aspire to be like one day,” he said. “But it is going to be difficult to match what he has done in the past for Surrey.”
Elgar acknowledged that the recently completed series against Australia was punishing for all involved above the shoulders due to the fierce controversy it brought, punctuated by the decimation of the visitors when they were caught ball tampering in Cape Town.
“Emotion is the word that stands out big time,” he said. “If you put yourself in their shoes you only try and think this is how you’d feel. So emotionally it was quite a battle. Even the incident with Kagiso (Rabada) and Steve Smith and what KG was going through, he is a teammate and you live it with a guy. It was definitely a very high-ego strung kind of series.”
Before that Test was derailed, Elgar carried his bat on the way to an unbeaten century, the third time in his career that he has outlasted all his teammates from the top. Only Desmond Haynes, who played 116 Tests, has pulled that off on three separate occasions at the highest level.
“We managed to fulfil our goal which was to beat Australia at home which we haven’t done since (readmission),” he said of the side’s on-field accomplishments. “It was a great series to be involved in but it was a little bit sad with all the events that went on.”
Of the ball tampering incident, Elgar reiterated that there had been suspicions inside the home camp of prohibited tampering with the ball in the Port Elizabeth Test, but not to the extent that he would be happy to point the finger at any individual.
“Their (ball) started a lot earlier than our ball started, so we did have a little inclination that there might have been something going on,” he said. “But they have been through a tough time as well, so for me to sit here and say they have definitely done it is not my character.”