South Africa were shot out for 151 and 179 to lose by an innings and 85 runs, and Elgar laid the blame squarely on his batters, after he won the toss and chose to bat first in overcast, seamer-friendly conditions.
“First-innings runs stabilise your game,” Elgar said. “If you score 300-plus, you are giving yourself the best chance to compete and get a result in your favour. We were half of that. I really didn’t think we batted particularly well. Sure, the ball went around but this is Test cricket, man, you need to to deal with it.
South Africa were reduced to 77 for 5 by lunch on the first day and lost two wickets in three overs before the break, which Elgar believes started the spiral from which they could not recover.
“If we were three-down at lunch – 80-odd for three – we’d have been in a pretty good position and I think I would have bitten my arm off for that result,” he said. “But we were five-down and you are always going to be playing catch-up cricket with regards to that. The wicket did deteriorate like we thought it would. The first innings let us down quite a bit.”
“A few tough decisions will be coming our way,” Elgar said. “With Rassie ruled out, we have to replace him. That’s a definite. Whether that’s the only one we will make … we’ve got a few days. We’ve got nearly two weeks. We’ll go away and get our options and try and get better combinations.
“The bottom line is we need runs from that middle order and that is letting us down quite a bit, to be frank and bold and honest. That’s the truth. As much as guys don’t want to hear it, they know that already. But for now, Rassie’s position has to be filled. Whether that’s the only spot, we are not sure just yet.”
Selection is a hot-button topic in the South African team after they picked two specialist spinners for Old Trafford, despite their quartet of quicks bowling England out twice for under 200 at Lord’s.
Elgar explained the decision was based on experience. “Marco is the least experienced player or bowler in the four-pronged pace attack. Lungi [Ngidi] gives us the control and stability, Anrich [Nortje] has got raw pace and he has got a few of the English batters’ numbers and KG [Rabada] is the full package. We thought Jansen was the obvious choice. It was just on inexperience.”
That was the same reason he gave pre-series for starting with Markram and van der Dussen, selections which were in keeping with his approach of delivering consistent messages. Elgar said that messaging, unlike the starting XI, won’t change.
“I won’t change my way or my approach, that has been pretty sound and unique,” he said. “If I do that now, I will be doing myself an injustice and I will be letting the team down. The guys enjoy the honesty. They understand where they stand with me and it creates an honest platform among the other players.
“I will have a few days off now and go back to the drawing board and dissect and have a look at where we could have been better. We’ll sit down and have those chats again. It’s an adult environment. I don’t want to treat a guy like a school kid. That’s not my way. I wouldn’t have liked that when I was a younger player but we will definitely have a few chats.”
The teams have an 11-day gap between Tests, and South Africa have not yet revealed their plans. With the Oval Test beginning on September 8, they had a pre-planned break between these matches, which will still go ahead, but Elgar also wants to use the opportunity to remind the squad of their greater purpose, without adding any pressure on them.
“Sometimes you can go into panic mode when things like this happen,” he said. “Myself and the coach are not guys to panic. We are still a good side. Sometimes time away from the game is not a bad thing. We will use that period for a bit of connection again within the group.
“Let’s pull ourselves towards ourselves and don’t forget why we are here: we are here to win a Test series and we are in a great position to still win a Test series. We’ll clear our minds, let the dust settle and focus on the third Test. It’s set up to be a serious series. I can’t wait for that third Test to start.”
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo’s South Africa correspondent