London – There are major distractions for the national team beforehand, but Dean Elgar’s consistent first-class form and hunger “just up the road” is shaping as a significant development for the Proteas’ four-Test series against England in little more than a month’s time.
Indeed, Elgar is going so well for county side Somerset in limited-overs cricket as well that he also shapes as an appealing emergency candidate should South Africa experience a serious mishap to a specialist batsman during the current ICC Champions Trophy.
The Proteas began their campaign against Sri Lanka at The Oval here on Saturday.
At the very least, the nuggety left-handed opener seems set to hit the ground running in the Test series for the Basil D’Oliveira Trophy, beginning at Lord’s on July 6.
Elgar, who turns 30 on June 11, is an important component of the Proteas’ plans for that challenge as he is presently the most senior and assured-looking element of the otherwise problematic opening partnership in the format.
It is the second berth upfront that is causing headaches for the Test team. (Cook? De Bruyn? Markram? Or even some sort of Plan D?)
But in the meantime, Elgar demonstrates hallmarks for Somerset that suggest at least one of the key positions will be in firm hands.
He reportedly showed all his scrapping qualities again on Friday, a weather-interrupted day one of the County Championship fixture against Middlesex at Lord’s.
Elgar finished 77 not out at the close on a seam-friendly track in Somerset’s otherwise moderate 161 for five from the only 48.4 overs possible.
In the print edition of The Times (www.thetimes.co.uk) on Saturday, he was lauded as follows: “Somerset will go into day two in a much better situation than they might have been because of (Elgar), who is averaging over 55 in the Championship and trying bravely to make up for the poor form of his team-mates.”
The Taunton-based side lie bottom of division one.
It continued: “Elgar battled through an uncomfortable period of hostile bowling against the hugely impressive Tom Helm, who found both pace and bounce using the vagaries of the Lord’s slope to his advantage.”
In his last four-dayer against Hampshire, Elgar notched 60 in each innings, confirming his value and decent touch.
But it is his form in the 50-overs One-Day Cup that should turn the heads of a few observers of the shorter-format game back home and keep the Proteas brains trust pretty interested if circumstances suddenly require it, too.
His scores in that competition, where he has not yet suffered a notable failure, are 68 against Surrey, a career-best 131 not out against Sussex, 55 against Kent, 96 against Glamorgan and 78 against Hampshire.
That amounts to 428 runs at 107 from five matches, and a strike rate of 92.
If the Proteas did need a quick call-up from outside during the Champions Trophy, Elgar – also no slouch as a part-time left-arm spinner -- would sport the massive advantage of being so well-versed and prosperous in English conditions …
*Rob Houwing is attending the Champions Trophy for Sport24. Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing