Miscalculating the DLS par score in 2003; Playing Vernon Philander over Kyle Abbot in the 2015 WC semi-final; Giving the final over of the game to Makhaya Ntini instead of Friedel de Wet against England in Centurion 2009; Handing the Test captaincy over to Hashim Amla.
South Africa have committed their fair share of mistakes since the turn of this century. In all fairness, they might have done more wrong than right in the last 20 years. In fact, taking everything into consideration, it is indeed remarkable they are where they are, given the politics, conflict, turbulence and turmoil that’s been constantly unfolding behind the scenes and sometimes even on the field. That they still find themselves being talked about as one of the elites is a testament to the quality of cricket they play. However, the mystery of cricket - and life, itself - is that you never know when you’re allowed to make your last mistake when it will turn fatal.
For over two years, South Africa have been living on borrowed time and it has now boiled down to the point where one more misstep could see them plunge out of relevance; a misstep that could end up doing irreversible damage. But weirdly enough, crisis brings the best out of the man and forces him to do the right things. Cricket South Africa are currently playing ‘Hangman’ and are on their last attempt: they cannot afford to get a single letter wrong.
And perhaps, that’s what has forced them into taking the right decisions, thus far - Graeme Smith’s tenure as Director of CSA has been extended till 2022 and the man himself has confirmed that Quinton de Kock will not be taking up the reins in Test cricket. Indeed, it is uncharacteristic; it’s not often that you see CSA taking two correct decisions in a span of two days. But one can only hope that they have one more right decision up their sleeve, which might turn out to be the most important one yet - naming Dean Elgar the Test captain.
From a logical standpoint, Elgar would be the most obvious choice as captain. Faf du Plessis is the only cricketer in the current side who has played more Tests than him and him having been an integral part of the side for eight years, he knows the setup through and through. Now that his only competitor, Quinton de Kock, has been ruled out of contention by Smith, it almost looks inevitable that Elgar will take over the reins in Tests. But as obvious as the choice looks and sounds, for South Africa, there is a certain need associated with it and it is a decision that simply has to be taken.
What comes along with making Dean Elgar the captain is not only the assurance that the side is in the safe hands of a leader, a warrior who understands the nuances and the complexities of the game but also a window of opportunity to see the man himself take his batting to levels that have been unexplored. South Africa have always craved to see the Elgar that turned up to bat at the Wanderers in 2018 more often, but that, unfortunately, has simply never been the case. His career has been one big paradox, for you wouldn’t bet against him getting out to your next-door neighbour, chasing a ball on the fourth stump, but at the same time, you wouldn’t bet against him batting the fifth day out on a demonic Perth pitch either. It’s the inconsistency that has bugged everyone, but handing Elgar the captaincy might finally put a full-stop to it.
Bestowing him with Test captaincy wouldn’t necessarily mean that all his flaws will magically be wiped away with a snap of the finger. However, what it will enable is that it will inject a sense of responsibility within him, and Elgar, throughout the course of his career, has thrived under pressure. From him carrying the bat in Johannesburg in 2018 on a wicket where there were more chances of the batsmen leaving the field on a stretcher than walking off to the pavilion to his masterful 141* in Cape Town against the Aussies with the series level at 1-1, South Africa have been exposed to the best of Elgar when he’s had his back against the wall; there’s something about a crisis that awakens the man and enrages the world-class batsman in him.
Since the days of Graeme Smith, barring a few inspirational performances, the Proteas have always lacked a leader who they can look up to - de Villiers was overloaded and burnt out, Hashim Amla was never the right fit and du Plessis couldn’t just take it after a point. The need of the hour demands an experienced, level-headed, brave and rigid cricketer willing to shoulder responsibility and carry the team forward and in the form of Elgar, South Africa, luckily, have a readymade option. As things stand, there might be very few options at their disposal, but handing Dean Elgar the captain’s armband might just be the shot in the arm that’s needed - for both the player and the team.