Dean Elgar's Excellent Impression of Graeme Smith a Boost for South Africa

Chris TealeFeatured ColumnistJuly 16, 2014

South African batsman Dean Elgar celebrates scoring a century as Sri Lanka wicketkeeper Dinesh Chandimal watches during the first day of the first test cricket match between Sri Lanka and South Africa in Galle, Sri Lanka, Wednesday, July 16, 2014. (AP Photo/Eranga Jayawardena)
Eranga Jayawardena/Associated Press

The first day of the Test series between Sri Lanka and South Africa felt like a changing of the guard in so many ways for the visitors.

Hashim Amla was leading the Proteas in a Test for the first time, and at the top of the order the left-hander Dean Elgar came in for the retired Graeme Smith.

Elgar became the first South African to make a century in Sri Lanka as he laced 103 from 187 balls before being removed at the start of the evening session.

The parallels between Elgar and Smith are noticeable, and they give the South Africans plenty of hope for the future, having lost one of their most prolific openers in history.

Eranga Jayawardena/Associated Press

In just his 10th match, Elgar played with the assuredness of a veteran: Even on a slow wicket in Galle he allowed the ball to come on to the bat and played late.

He was making his first Test appearance as an opener outside his home country but looked as though he had been in the role for a decade or more.

It bears comparison to the early days of Smith’s Test career, where in just his 11th Test he came to England as captain and struck a magnificent 277 in Birmingham in 2003.

Both looked assured even in unfamiliar conditions, both prospered when the bowlers started to toil and both were aggressive when they needed to be.

When considering that Elgar’s first Test century came in just his fourth innings and Smith’s came in his fifth, the two players look almost eerily similar.

The emphatic way that Elgar brought up his century today in Galle—a straight six that he greeted with a roar of celebration—was also reminiscent of Smith.

In addition, Elgar’s dominance of the run-scoring also struck some resemblance to the former Proteas captain, who liked to dominate and assert himself in the game early on.

Eranga Jayawardena/Associated Press

When the 27-year-old was dismissed for 103, South Africa’s score was 195, meaning Elgar had contributed 52.82 percent of his side’s runs.

Compare that to Smith’s first Test century against Bangladesh in 2002.

When he was finally removed for 200, his side were 359-2, meaning Smith had scored 55.71 percent of his side’s runs up until that point.

Both have demonstrated—albeit against weak bowling attacks—an ability to dominate from the outset and score the bulk of the runs alone.

Neither have perfect techniques, and perhaps it will be the case that Elgar is picked apart by a stronger and more potent bowling attack.

However, having earned himself a Cricket South Africa one-year contract and having shown the temperament to succeed, Elgar could be a great find for the Proteas.

If he can be at least half the player that Smith was, South Africa will have a superb replacement for their former captain at the top of the order.