Matches (16)
IPL (2)
Pakistan vs New Zealand (1)
WT20 Qualifier (4)
NSL 4-Day (2)
CAN T20 (2)
Kalahari T20 (2)
DPDCL (3)
Interviews

Dean Elgar: 'The writing was on the wall for my South Africa career'

Former captain embraces challenge at Essex as he steps into Alastair Cook's sizeable shoes

Andrew Miller
Andrew Miller
27-Mar-2024
Dean Elgar has joined Essex after retiring from Test cricket  •  Alex Davidson/Getty Images

Dean Elgar has joined Essex after retiring from Test cricket  •  Alex Davidson/Getty Images

As a nuggety, hard-grafting left-hander with a proud Test record, Dean Elgar certainly fits the bill for Essex as they embark on the 2024 season with a gaping void at the top of the order where Alastair Cook once resided.
Elgar's arrival at Chelmsford, on a three-year deal, is South Africa's loss - or at least, it ought to be, given his fighting qualities were still on full display when, as captain, he made a matchwinning 185 against India in his penultimate Test appearance at Centurion, only three months ago.
But, Elgar says, with political pressure mounting from within Cricket South Africa, he already knew that "the writing was on the wall" for his international career when he announced that that India series would be his last, adding that his country's inexorable drift away from red-ball cricket had led him to believe he was being "wasted as a person and as a cricketer".
"I made a decision last February [2023] already that I was going to retire at the end of the India series," Elgar said. "My mind was made up long ago about where my future was, or how it looked back home.
"It's maybe not looking as rosy as what it should be looking, but I think after serving the Proteas for 12 years, I maybe had that respect to decide how my career's going to look."
The bare bones of Elgar's career change, he says, were put into place by Essex's resident South African, Simon Harmer, who had picked up on his captain's dissatisfaction amid the political wrangling, and set about greasing the wheels for a new beginning.
"Me and Harmy have known each other for well over 15 years," Elgar said. "Obviously we were team-mates back home when he was in the Proteas squad as well. And the whole conversation came about when we're having a braai at my house.
"For me that was a direct line of communication. When he heard the prospect of me retiring, he brought it to Essex and spoke to the powers-that-be about what my plans were looking like. It was just an easy, direct conversation to have with him.
"As a young kid playing professional cricket, I always had a vision of ending my career playing county cricket. I'm a British passport holder - my mum and brother live in Sussex - so that was always something that I that I was looking to do, irrespective of how things look back home. So I'm really excited to be here with the bunch. We had a good preseason in Abu Dhabi, and I'm looking forward to the season."
The prospect of Elgar's arrival had been so long in the making, in fact, that he had initially hoped to open the batting alongside Cook, rather than having to step into his sizeable shoes. Instead, Cook slipped quietly into retirement at the end of the 2023 season, taking with him a first-class haul of 26,643 runs, including 11,337 at 45.16 in two decades at Essex.
"Batting alongside Chef would have been a bit of a dream, but in saying that he's allowed to make his own decisions and rightly so," Elgar said. "I can't play the way he does. I mean, he's a 'Sir' for a reason. Rightly so and well deserved. But if I could get everything even 80% close to what he's done, I think Essex cricket would be in a good spot."
Nevertheless, it's hard for Elgar not to look back on his South Africa exit with a hint of bitterness, especially given the circumstances of the country's only subsequent series since his retirement. With the SA20 taking precedence in the home season, a squad of seven debutants including the new captain Neil Brand were dispatched to New Zealand in February where they slumped to two uncompetitive losses.
"I don't think I need to elaborate on that, because it was pretty s***," Elgar said. Next on South Africa's Test agenda is a tour of West Indies in July, when Major League Cricket is likely to impinge on the teams' availabilities, and though Sri Lanka and Pakistan are due to visit next year, the team currently has no home Test matches scheduled between January 2025 and September 2026.
"I always want to play and challenge myself at the highest level, but we didn't have enough Test matches and that's where I felt I was actually getting wasted as a person and as a cricketer," Elgar said.
"I saw the writing on the wall a year ago. It's got nothing to do with the SA20, I think that's a great tournament for us for SA cricket, because I know it brings in good money. Unfortunately, it does take away international duties. And it's a balancing act of what the administrators want.
"I am not an administrator, I'm a player. I know what I want as a player. But I've also been part of the system in South Africa long enough to get a sense of potentially where things are going.
"I've missed a lot of cricket in the last few years, starting from the Covid times. And going forward, it looks like there's not going to be a lot of competitiveness in that respect. So, for me, the next best was this.
"Like I've said, I've always wanted to finish my career playing county cricket. And I want to win trophies, by the way. I play cricket to win. I was born a winner. I don't play this game to be second-best."
To that end, Elgar is joining a club that, for four seasons up to and including the Covid summer of 2020, was rightly regarded as the best red-ball outfit in the country. Surrey have since taken that crown, along with another of their marquee players, Dan Lawrence. But Elgar is confident, thanks to his five previous stints with Somerset and Surrey, dating back to 2013, that he has the wherewithal to maintain those high standards.
"April and May is not the easiest time to play cricket, it's cold and you can have a four-seasons-in-one-day kind of vibe. I can't promise runs. I can only promise the process that I feel works in these conditions, and luckily I've been exposed to these conditions early on in my career. So I can draw on that reference. For me, it's not foreign.
"I've always felt county cricket is up there with the toughest four-day cricket in the world. It's not just the cricket, it's the way of life. Some guys come here and they've got to do their washing for the first time. You've got to clean your own house, you've got to fight the weather. There will be times where it's going to be pretty s*****.
"But the biggest thing about four-day cricket is you got to find a way to make it work, and find the best mindspace to win that moment."

Andrew Miller is UK editor of ESPNcricinfo. @miller_cricket

news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news