England v South Africa, Third Test, Day Five, Analysis: Elgar’s vigil

Freddie Wilde uses CricViz data to analyse how Dean Elgar survived as long as he did.

In South Africa’s fourth innings Dean Elgar scored more runs (136) and nearly faced as many balls (228) than the rest of South Africa’s team put together (101 and 235). Although he should have been caught on 9 by Keaton Jennings and would have been given out on 79 had England reviewed an appeal for a catch down the leg side, his was an innings of resilience amongst an otherwise poor batting performance from South Africa.

Shot-type analysis gives no clues as to why he enjoyed more success than his teammates. Elgar left, missed and edged about as many balls as the rest of the South African team in the fourth innings and although he defended 14% fewer deliveries than the rest of the team that difference can largely be explained by a more prolonged stay at the crease.

Closer analysis of Elgar’s innings suggests that key to his success could well have been his left-handedness and the angle and lines England opted to employ against him.

Across his career Elgar has favoured facing right arm pace from over the wicket (average 79.77) compared to round the wicket (average 31.80), yet in the fourth innings England bowled 66% of their deliveries to Elgar over the wicket.

In English conditions when there is lateral movement to be found in the air and off the pitch such a tactic, in which bowlers angle the ball across him and look for the edge, is understandable. Indeed, it was this strategy which led to Elgar being dropped on 9.

However, the issue for England was that their lines from over the wicket were generally too wide for leg before wicket or bowled to be options and allowed him to confidently assess whether to play or leave the ball.

Ball-tracking analysis shows England’s pace bowlers to have pitched just 13% of their balls from over the wicket either down leg or in line with the stumps—significantly below the average by right arm bowlers from over the wicket to left-handers of 25%. Release-point analysis suggests that this was not the product of inaccuracy but a concerted plan with the average release point to Elgar from over the wicket being 71cm outside the line of middle stump, compared to the global average for left-handers of 56cm; in other words England were bowling from wide of the crease. 

v RA Over the WicketDown LegStumpsChannelWide of Off Stump
Dean Elgar 4th Innings4%9%52%35%
All LHs9%16%49%26%

Although Elgar has only ever been dismissed once lbw from over the wicket, England’s wider line meant he did not have to worry about that mode of dismissal—or bowled—and allowed him to focus instead on whether he should play or leave the balls that pitched outside the line of off stump. Elgar did this superbly, displaying excellent judgement (he left almost almost as many as he defended off the front foot), notable restraint (he drove just once) and employing soft hands when he did play (he hit more balls into the backward point region than he did into the cover region). He also showed courage to continue getting behind the line of the ball despite taking a number of blows to the body. 

Elgar has a strange technique that can see his head fall outside the line of the ball and bat arc come across the ball and as such it is understandable why right-armers persist with bowling over the wicket to him. However, statistics suggest it is rarely successful and if teams bowl predictable lines outside off stump it is unlikely to be so. Elgar rarely looks comfortable but he knows how to survive. 

Freddie Wilde is an analyst at CricViz. @fwildecricket 

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