DEAN ELGAR was battered, bruised but unbowed but he and Temba Bavuma guided the Standard Bank Proteas to the less stormy waters of the close of play on the fourth day of the third Test match at The Oval in London on Sunday.
England nevertheless held an overwhelming advantage as they reduced the Proteas to 117/4 in pursuit of a victory target 492 from an initial 148 overs. Victory will give England a 2-1 lead in the series and will mean that they retain the Basil d’Oliveira Trophy.
At one stage it looked as though England would win the match on the fourth day after Ben Stokes back up his century in the first innings by dismissing Quinton de Kock and Faf du Plessis off successive balls with Bavuma coming to the crease on a hat trick.
But Bavuma, as he has had to do too often in the past, proved to be the right man to stabilize the innings in partnership with Elgar. By the close of play they had shared an unbroken stand of 65 for the fifth wicket with Elgar on 72 (111 balls, 11 fours) and Bavuma on 16 (59 balls, 1 four).
Elgar got hit on the hand several times and also on different parts of his body and, if he does go on to complete his 8th Test century, he will have earned it the hard day. This is his third half-century of the series and he has been far and away the most consistent batsman for his team. He was clearly in significant distress and many of his strokes were played almost one-handed.
He and Bavuma are certainly the best men on current form for the crisis in which the Proteas find themselves and it does pose the question as to whether Bavuma should be moved up the order for the final Test match at Old Trafford, starting on Friday.
The Proteas did a reasonable bowling job on the fourth day with Keshav Maharaj chipping away at the middle-order to take three wickets (3/50 in 13.5 overs) but the damage had already been done when England claimed a lead of 178 on the first innings and their position was consolidated by Tom Westley (59 off 141 balls, 11 fours), Joe Root (50 off 94 balls, 6 fours) and Jonny Bairstow (63 off 58 balls, 6 fours and a six).
Stokes was the pick of the England attack when it came to their turn to bowl (2/29 in an eight-over spell) but all the England bowlers proved hard to handle and the key fact is that they have been more successful than their Protea counterparts in putting the ball in the right spot consistently.