Is Dean Elgar Currently The Best Test Match Opener In World Cricket?

Dean Elgar, test opener, celebrates scoring a century against Australia at Newlands in 2018.

Dean Elgar – The Statistics

Dean Elgar averages 38.49 in test match cricket as an opener.

He primarily plays his cricket in South Africa – a country which often provides spicy pitches. This comes as no great surprise considering that the strength of South African Cricket has been its bowlers over the years.

It is often said that players should be able to perform equally as well away from home in order to be considered world-class.

But, how well has he performed overseas?

Can we call Dean Elgar the best test match opener currently and who are his competitors?

 

Dean Elgar – Test Batting Averages By Country

Country Average Centuries 
Bangladesh 75 0
New Zealand 44 1
South Africa  44 7
Zimbabwe 41 0
England 36 1
India 31 1
Australia 23 1
Sri Lanka  23 1
UAE 22 0

 

Dean Elgar averages above 40 in Bangladesh, New Zealand, South Africa and Zimbabwe predominantly as an opener. He also averages above 30 in England and India. Given the conditions of the pitches in recent times, it is fair to say opening the batting has been a tough job. Therefore, his batting averages are very strong.

Dean Elgar says “Playing for Surrey was an easy decision.”

Elgar has scored test match centuries in six different countries – a mark of his adaptability as an opening batsman. Two of these countries are in the subcontinent where the ball spins – India and Sri Lanka. Two of the countries inhibit conditions where the ball moves laterally via swing and seam movement – England and New Zealand. Finally, the other two countries inhibit pace and bounce – Australia and South Africa.

LONDON, ENGLAND – JULY 31: Dean Elgar of South Africa celebrates reaching his century during the 3rd Investec Test between England and South Africa at The Kia Oval on July 31, 2017 in London, England. (Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)

This means that Dean Elgar has the game and the technique to score runs in a variety of conditions. He has very few flaws to his game, which makes him one of the most reliable opening batsmen in the world.

Despite averaging under 30 in Sri Lanka and Australia, he has a century in both of those countries as mentioned. Plus, he has only played 4 test matches each in those countries. Given it is a small sample size, he has the potential to improve on his next visit.

Lack Of Stable Opening Partner

Aiden Markram has perhaps been the most stable opening partner that Dean Elgar has batted with for a reasonable time period. Even then, this has come with its own struggles. Aiden Makram has missed matches previously for misdemeanours such as punching the locker room with frustration.

Also, Read – Picking South Africa’s All-Time Test XI

He has also been injured as was the case against England last year. Thirdly, Markram has struggled on the subcontinent – leaving Dean Elgar often to bat with the middle-order.

CAPE TOWN, SOUTH AFRICA – JANUARY 02: Dean Elgar of the Proteas celebrates his century during day 1 of the 2nd test between South Africa and Sri Lanka at PPC Newlands on January 02, 2107 in Cape Town, South Africa. (Photo by Carl Fourie/Gallo Images/Getty Images)

As a result, it has been difficult for Dean Elgar. He has seen partners come and go. Theunis De Bruyn opened the batting for a short time in New Zealand in 2017. Temba Bavuma had a go in India in 2015. Stephen Cook and Pieter Malan are other names who Dean Elgar has had to bat with.

The problem arises due to time. Each time a new opening partner is chosen for Elgar, we cannot expect the partnership to gel instantly. Communication takes time. And so, Dean Elgar has had it tough – with several opening partners throughout his career. He is a tough customer himself, but even for him, such rotation is difficult to deal with mentally.

The Competition

Tom Latham rivals Dean Elgar as a test match opener.
New Zealand’s batsman Tom Latham celebrates reaching his century, 100 runs, on day one of the second cricket Test between England and New Zealand at Seddon Park in Hamilton on November 29, 2019. (Photo by Peter PARKS / AFP) (Photo by PETER PARKS/AFP via Getty Images)

Dean Elgar’s nearest competitors are the likes of Tom Latham and David Warner. Latham is perhaps the best comparison because both are similar style openers. Elgar is superior against pace while Latham is much more adept against spin.

Latham currently has slightly better numbers. He averages 42.66 and has scored nearly 4000 test match runs for New Zealand. His best averages are at home and in Sri Lanka. However, Latham has not scored a century in either of South Africa, India, Australia or England. This is perhaps an area where Elgar has the edge, having scored 100s in all four countries that are deemed tough to bat in.

Tom Latham says “New Zealand have a chance of qualifying for WTC final.”

David Warner has the best numbers out of any opener. However, these are heavily skewed towards runs in just a couple of countries. His record at home is extraordinary, averaging over 60, with 18 centuries. He also averages over 60 in South Africa and had a good tour of the United Arab Emirates when playing Pakistan. Again, the rest of his averages are quite poor and has struggled especially against spin in India and against the moving ball in England and New Zealand.

Azhar Ali deserves a mention because like Warner, his stats are very solid. He has made centuries all over the world and in peak form would give a good challenge to any of those mentioned above. Especially against spin he is excellent, while also excelling in Australia and scoring two centuries in England.

Overall Verdict

Also, Read – Picking Pakistan’s All-Time Test XI

Overall, Tom Latham perhaps edges it on current form for the title of the best test opener. However, Dean Elgar is pretty much at the same level as an opener and can regain the title should he perform back to his best in the upcoming test series in the 2020-21 season.

A dogged opener, in the mould of Graeme Smith before him, Elgar has certainly been South Africa’s rock over the past 5 years at the top of the order.

 

 

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