Lack of cricket partly responsible for Dean Elgar’s retirement – Shukri Conrad

Dean Elgar’s decision to retire from Test cricket was the result of detailed discussions with red-ball coach Shukri Conrad, who was full of praise for the player who was removed as captain when Conrad took over.

While the reasons Elgar has chosen to end his international career after the New Year’s Test against India have not been explicitly stated, it is understood Elgar was not part of Conrad’s longer-term plans in a scant Test schedule. But Conrad said the calendar was only partly responsible for Elgar’s decision.

“The fact that we haven’t got much Test cricket is part of the reason we arrived at the decision we arrived at,” Conrad said in Centurion, where South Africa will take on India from Boxing Day. “Ideally, we would like to play more Test cricket because the more Test cricket we play, the more opportunity we’ve got to blood cricketers for the future. If we have fewer Tests, that means I’ve got very little opportunity to blood young cricketers. Sometimes we arrive at decisions like Dean’s now because of a lack of cricket and a lack of opportunity to blood young players.”

South Africa have only played two Tests in 2023 but will play 10 (one against India, two in New Zealand, two in West Indies, two in Bangladesh, two against Sri Lanka at home and the Boxing Day Test against Pakistan) in 2024, so Elgar would have had plenty of opportunity to continue, should he have wanted to. In all likelihood, he would have been asked to captain South Africa again in New Zealand as Temba Bavuma (and most of the other first-choice XI) will be occupied with the SA20. Instead, Elgar decided to bow out at home, where Conrad said the team hopes to give him “the perfect send-off,” in recognition of how he has symbolised the South African way.

“Dean epitomises what a South African cricketer and almost what a South African person is about: resilience, dog fight, pride in performance and that ability to never back down,” Conrad said. “Those are all the elements that Dean has brought to his extensive international and first-class career and to all the sides he has played in. Hopefully if some of the young bucks that are going to be stepping up into those big shoes, half of the characteristics and the qualities that Dean had, then we will be in a good space.”

Some of the younger players include the likes of Tony de Zorzi, who is expected to open the batting in New Zealand and who was the leading run-scorer in South Africa’s ODI series against India, David Bedingham, who has abandoned ambitions to play for England and returned home, and Tristan Stubbs. This group of players are seen as distinctly different from the Elgar generation, who built their reputations on being intimidating and aggressive, as Conrad described above.

Asked if those qualities will be lost with Elgar’s retirement, Conrad had no doubt that will not be the case while also clarifying Elgar’s persona was as not as combatant as it may seem. “Nice guys can be resilient as well. You don’t have to be a knob to be resilient. The characteristics we display when we are on the field, that needs to speak to what being South African looks like,” Conrad said. “And Dean is a great guy. There is a lot of stuff being bandied about about his and my relationship and that’s great for media hype but we are going to keep the core values of what a South African cricket team is about. And Dean epitomises that. The Tony’s and some of the nicest people in the world will always embody that and that’s something we are going to continuously strive towards.”

Some of what has been written in the media has come from sources who revealed Elgar and Conrad’s relationship is not as good as Conrad made it sound. But he revealed the pair were in talks about Elgar’s future and reached a conclusion together. “The conversation and the decision and the outcomes have been exactly how Dean and I discussed it,” he said. “It is absolutely no surprise to me that we are at the place where Dean has decided to retire against India. I am very comfortable and thrilled to have Dean available for this series. It’s a massive series for us as a team. It’s a huge series for Dean. And It is going to be quite an emotional one. Hopefully we can give him the perfect send-off as well.”

Rabada, Ngidi on track for selection

Lungi Ngidi was withdrawn from the T20Is against India with an ankle sprain and Kagiso Rabada missed the domestic four-day game he was due to play because of a bruised heel but both remain in South Africa’s Test squad and are available for the starting XI. Ngidi has not played a red-ball game for a year and Rabada last bowled in a Test in March but Conrad played down their readiness for the two Tests.

“I’ve always been a firm believer in best when fresh,” he said. “They’ll be fresh, they’ll be firing. It’s like riding a bicycle for a lot of them. The ideal would have been for them to get some mileage in the legs in the four-day game. But life happens. We’ve got to find a way from there. I am not in the least bit concerned that they will be undercooked in any way. Both KG and Lungi are still in the squad and up for selection.”

South Africa will hold a full training session on Sunday and optional nets on Christmas Day before the series starts on Tuesday.

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