Dad! India would have to break something in my body to drag me out of there

Sports News

A day after his son’s heroic match-winning unbeaten 96, a significant knock not just in terms of the ongoing series but also for the game in South Africa, Dean Elgar’s father shares the emotions his family went through while watching riveting Wanderer Test. He recalls the early days of the stubborn tough-as-nails opener who never took a step back and even if that meant smashing the large tropical fish tank in his living room.

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Shared News: January 7, 2022 8:02:48 pm

Elgar with his father Richard (L) and coach Louis Klopper at Lord’s. (Express Photo)

By Richard Elgar

When we spoke briefly on Wednesday night, Dean told me, ‘Dad! I will be there till the end of the game tomorrow. If they want to get me out, they would have to break something in my body to drag me out of there. They are not going to get me by hitting me on the body. No way in hell.’ When I heard him say that, I knew he was charged up and felt he would do it.

In the morning, when the target dipped under 100, I said to my wife, ‘you know what, they are not going to get him out today.’ I could see that he was in the zone – so focused, so intense in his bubble, that he didn’t even know what was going on around him. I could see it. She said ‘but 100 runs are there’, and I went, ‘doesn’t matter. Dean and others are going to do it.’

When Dean plays the ball off his pads, then I know all is well. It’s a bit strange but somehow that tells me he is focused, his balance is fine, and he is going to be okay. In the third over of the day, he clipped (Jasprit) Bumrah twice off the legs. I knew he was in.

Do I get worried when he cops those body-blows? Not really. Because I have seen him do that even at school as a kid. It’s odd or whatever, but somehow it never fazed him. I knew from then that he was tough. Whenever he would get hit, he would get more determined. Grow more stubborn. Even as a boy, so not a surprise that he does it now. I also played soccer and was the captain. So, the blows don’t faze me. My wife remains under pressure when watching!

I remember when Dean was just 5 years old and would play at this large backyard of a friend of his brother, who is six years older than Dean. The two senior boys would bowl at him at pace and the five-year-old Dean would see me watching, and would tell, ‘Don’t worry Dad, they won’t get me out.’ He was so stubborn. Only thing is, if he got out, he would want to bat one more time since he was way younger than them!

There was a moment in the game near the end when he had something going with one or two Indian players. He even told umpire Marias Erasmus that “I am not just going to stand there and do nothing!” I smiled when I heard that. He could have said that line even about the chase itself that morning — 122 runs to get, I am not going to stand there and do nothing!

South Africa’s Dean Elgar reacts after his team won the second cricket test between South Africa and India at the Wanderers stadium in Johannesburg, South Africa, Thursday, Jan. 6, 2022. (AP Photo)

If his mind is fixed on something, he won’t change. So glad he did what he set out to do. For him to get out without getting the job done, it would have been so devastating to him. This is a really important win for the team. We all saw how rusty the bowling was in the first Test. It was also said where were the runs going to come from in this inexperienced line-up, and then they lost Quinny (Quinton de Kock) too. Had they lost this Test, things could have got away from them for a while. Now there isn’t just hope but also genuine belief. As a parent, I am so proud that Dean is at the forefront doing his best for the team.

The dream of playing professional cricket started so early in his life that looking back, I am quite bemused. I remember when he was in primary school, he used to tell me that he was going to play sports for life. Not just me, but even to the teachers. His primary school principal called him in one day to say that he better start working harder with the classwork and studies, and this little boy shoots out, “I am here to play cricket!”. She couldn’t believe what she heard and told me years later about it, and we had a good laugh. As he grew, he also was a very good squash player – among the top ten in the country in his age-group – and had to choose a sport. He chose cricket.

His coach Louis Klopper was a good friend of mine and I remember this one day very clearly. I had gone to the school where Louis was overseeing the cricket nets. Dean was knocking about. And Louis came over to tell me, ‘your son is going to play for South Africa and score thousands of runs.’ I didn’t know how to react then but his words have come true. Also, when Dean was 9, Louis told me that when Dean plays for South Africa at Lord’s, both of us will go there. There was no doubt, nothing. A sporting life is what he wanted for himself, and that’s what people around him were convinced too that he can have it. And so, it was a very emotional moment for Louis and me when years later, Dean played at Lord’s – he even captained that game in the absence of Faf du Plessis – and we both went to see that game. We took a snap in the outfield. Happy times.

Dean was always a leader, a captain at cricket or squash at his school. So that part of his personality was always there. The only thing I told him when he got the captaincy now is that ‘Dean, you have to be who you are. Don’t change. That would be silly. Respect will come when you lead from the front – discipline on and off the field. Treat everyone well, the way you would want to be treated.’

We saw what he said about KG (Kagiso) Rabada after the game. If he sees someone not pulling their weight or chipping in, he would speak up. Just as his previous coaches and captains would speak about him. If the trust and respect is there, there is no offence. Dean is not scared to sit down with a player, whoever it may be, if he is not doing his utmost.

Being a South African captain is probably the toughest cricket captaincy job out there in terms of man-management. So many races, religions, languages and we are in a very sensitive stage in the development of our society with inclusiveness. Wounds have to heal. The country has to grow together. The Dean I know is conscious about his position – he sees captaincy as a privilege. I know he has a lot of heart-to-heart chats with other players, learned from them, spoke his mind, and this is a tight unit. He went to a multi-racial school. So, he moved with people of different backgrounds from a kid. So, this is nothing new to him. He knows where the pitfalls are; it’s about avoiding them.

He has spoken about how he has found a way to handle the relationship between him and South African fans. Whether he gets more love now from the fans would be interesting but knowing him, it doesn’t affect his performances. If anything, he has used it as inspiration. But more importantly, his players and coaches respect and love him. They know what they are going to get from him: 100 per cent commitment.

We don’t talk much about cricket at home when he comes. He loves spending time at game reserves, in the wild, or playing golf, and we usually talk about such stuff. He manages life well when he isn’t playing cricket. I am not surprised that he has proven to be a successful player. And good he has done, as that’s all he wanted to do since he was a boy.

I remember one afternoon at home. He asked his brother to come out and bowl some balls to him. When the refusal came, I heard a loud explosion. I ran in. Dean had picked up a tennis racquet and hurled it at his brother, who had swayed away. The racquet crashed through the large tropical fish tank I had – a couple of hundreds of litres of water flowing and precious tropical fish splattering on the floor. I wasn’t amused that day. Now, I feel proud watching him lead our country and the one thing I know for sure is that my stubborn son won’t ever take a backward step.

(As told to Sriram Veera)