Proteas

Majestic, undefeated Elgar stands alone as Proteas crumble

Dean Elgar celebrates his ton at Newlands (Gallo).
Dean Elgar celebrates his ton at Newlands (Gallo).

Cape Town -  Dean Elgar is not one who often lets his emotions show, but his celebration after reaching a century on Day 1 of the third Test against Australia at Newlands on Thursday was a rare exception.

96* having faced 178 deliveries, Elgar clipped Aussie ace Mitchell Starc through the on-side with one of the sweetest-timed shots of the day to bring up his 11th Test century just after tea.

The scenes that followed showed just how much it meant to him.

Elgar found himself nearly half-way off the field by the time he was done, pumping his arms towards the Proteas dressing room.

This, very clearly, was a big one.

Elgar's heroics in a knock of 121* should have put South Africa firmly in the driver's seat going into day two, but Australian quick Pat Cummins (4/64) had other ideas as he ripped through the Proteas middle order, taking four quick wickets to get his side ahead in the contest. 

At stumps, the Proteas had slumped to 266/8 having been 220/2

It has been a tough year for Elgar, who finished 2017 as the third-highest run scorer in Test cricket.

In five 2018 Tests before this one, Elgar had scored 285 runs in 10 knocks at an average of 31.66 without having gone to three figures.

It wasn’t that Elgar was batting badly, but his task had been made all the more difficult by the fact that he had faced India on three bowler-friendly wickets that had made batting extremely tough.

After India had left, the Aussies then arrived with one of the best seam attacks in world cricket.

But in what has become familiar fashion over the years, Elgar was always up for the fight.

On Thursday, he was sublime.

Elgar's knock did come with an element of luck – he was dropped by Nathan Lyon on 53 – but his concentration levels before and after that moment were superb. Along the way, he became the 15th South African to notch up 3 000 runs in Test cricket.

AB de Villiers continued his impressive form in the series with a knock of 64 (95b, 10x4) before he was out driving Cummins to David Warner at mid-off in a moment that started the South African rot.

De Villiers was as fluent as ever and looked set for another big innings, making his departure a massive wicket for the visitors as the Newlands crowd went silent.

De Villiers and Elgar had put on 128 for the third-wicket and had threatened to completely take the game away from Australia.

Before that, Elgar had shared an 86-run stand with Hashim Amla (31) but the 34-year-old was out hooking a Josh Hazlewood (2/37) bouncer to Cummins on the fine leg fence.

It had been the recovery the South Africans needed, though, after Aiden Markram (0) was out in just the fourth over of the day, caught at second slip after nibbling at a length Hazlewood delivery. 

After De Villiers had departed, South Africa were 220/3 and still looking good for a big first innings total.

Unfortunately for the hosts, Faf du Plessis is easily the most out-of-form man batsman in the Proteas side currently. That lean run continued when the skipper played a nothing shot off Cummins, only to edge to Steve Smith at third slip to be out for 5.

It means that Du Plessis has scored just 35 runs from five knocks in this series for an average of 8.75.

That brought Temba Bavuma, returning from a hand injury and without any recent cricket behind him, to the crease.

He didn't last long, and once again it was Cummins doing the damage when he forced Bavuma (1) into an awkward position as Smith took his third catch of the innings. 

Cummins was on a role and, somehow, still had plenty of gas in the tank late in the day. 

In his 20th over, he had the dangerous Quinton de Kock back in the hut for 3. De Kock has flirted with finding his best form in this series, but he played a poor shot to get out on Thursday when he tried to pull Cummins but instead found an edge through to wicketkeeper Tim Paine. 

Cummins took an incredible 4/12 in that final eight-over, potentially game-changing spell.

Vernon Philander (8) was next to go as yet another South African batsman was caught on the crease. This time it was Mitch Marsh (1/26) who got the breakthrough as Paine took another catch behind the stumps.

The Aussies turned to Mitchell Starc (1/81) to have one last crack before the end of the day and he struck in his first over back as Keshav Maharaj (3) hit him to Cameron Bancroft at cover. 

When bad light brought play to an end, Kagiso Rabada (6*) was with Elgar, who had a day to remember. 

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