Elgar’s nightmare is real

“We would have liked this decision to have been dealt with a lot earlier and with a lot more urgency.” – Temba Bavuma on South Africa’s IPL problem.

Telford Vice | Cape Town

NOW that South Africa’s worst case scenario for the Test series against Bangladesh looms on the not at all distant horizon, somebody had better check on Dean Elgar.

In a press conference on March 4, Elgar made no bones about expecting those of his players who had IPL contracts to delay their departure for the tournament to feature in the Bangladesh rubber. “It’s a tough one leaving that [decision] up to the players, but this is how we’ll see where their loyalty lies,” he said. “They mustn’t forget that Test and one-day cricket got them into the IPL, not the other way around.”

He also said: “I can’t take the field without my best side, in order to give ourselves the best chance. I need my best players.” And: “You don’t want players to miss out on a big occasion like the IPL, by no means. But I’d still like to think playing for your country is bigger than that.” And: “We can’t not have our best players around when the team is called upon to go out and perform.”

Strong as those words are, Elgar’s private conversations with his players would have leapt a level or three in passion and persuasion about the importance of choosing country over cash. The language would have been vivid, and doubtless not for sensitive ears. But all that effort has come to nothing.

Kagiso Rabada, Lungi Ngidi, Marco Jansen, Anrich Nortjé, Rassie van der Dussen and Aiden Markram will not feature in the Test series. Instead, they have opted to be in India playing for exponentially more money than they could hope to earn in South Africa’s colours.

Elgar hasn’t been heard from since he made his imploring argument, but he is no doubt livid. And disappointed. The IPL crew had better hope he has got over it by the time South Africa tour England this winter. If they find themselves being posted from fine leg to fine leg, they shouldn’t ask why.

As South Africa’s white-ball captain, Temba Bavuma doesn’t have Elgar’s problems. He will be able to field a full-strength side in the ODI rubber against the Bangladeshis that starts in Centurion on Friday. “Having all your assets at your disposal is obviously something that, as the captain, you would like; am I happy? Of course,” Bavuma told a press conference on Thursday, two hours before the Test squad was named.

But, as a member of that group and as Elgar’s vice-captain to boot, Bavuma will also have to deal with the gaping hole where, most importantly, South Africa’s attack used to be. “It’s a far from ideal situation,” Bavuma said. “From the point of view of a player who’s not affected by the IPL, we would have liked this decision to have been dealt with a lot earlier and with a lot more urgency. On the eve of a one-day series, and with a Test squad due to be announced, we’re still not sure what is happening. We could have learnt from previous years.”

That’s a reference to April 2021, when Quinton de Kock, David Miller, Rabada, Ngidi and Nortjé left for the IPL after two of South Africa’s three ODIs against Pakistan and before the four T20Is that followed.

It’s a valid point, but it’s also likely to become more moot with each passing year. Think of the original window that world cricket granted the IPL as a seat on an aircraft, and of the tournament itself as a passenger who books the same seat every year for an annual flight. All good, except that the passenger always spends the ensuing year eating too much. And so, every time they take that flight, they are significantly bigger than they were 12 months previously.

They pay top dollar for their seat, so no-one wants to tell them that they really should buy two tickets. Meanwhile, their neighbours on either side — the rest of the cricket calendar — have to put up with being squeezed uncomfortably by their ever fatter fellow traveller.

You might use the same image to say the IPL has hijacked cricket, and that the pilots of the plane are the players — who will fly wherever the enormous passenger bang in the middle of row 17 says they should.

Elgar doesn’t seem the type of bloke who entertains metaphors, but if he is he might conjure a fantasy of the pilots — the players — quietly deploying their parachutes and floating gently back to earth as they watch the aircraft nosedive towards oblivion.

Thing is, without the IPL, would the plane even have taken off? And how would cricket pay for another plane if the flight carrying the IPL crashed? Chicken or beef? Business or economy? IPL or not? Cricket as we know it or a far smaller game struggling to keep up with other sports?

Not that we have those choices. Cricket’s flight is boarding now. Paging passenger Elgar …

First published by Cricbuzz.

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Elgar’s nightmare is real