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Elkin deserves his slice

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LUKE ALFRED

Indeed, there can’t have been too many Bishops-educated Jewish boys who have played one match for Western Province’s semi-professional side who’ve turned out for Piet Retief. But Elkin doesn’t regret his decision to head north for a minute.

Things didn’t work out quite as he had hoped in Mpumalanga, but he nonetheless feels that his three months staying in Thatchers Guest House in Witbank weren’t wasted.

As the opportunities Elkin had been promised at Mpumalanga failed to materialise, so he returned home to Cape Town – and all rather quickly. He was twelfth man for Mpumalanga in a match in Nelspruit on the Sunday and, that evening, drove back to Witbank. He packed up his stuff on Sunday night, jumped into his car on Monday morning, and spent that night in Colesberg.

Setting off the following morning, he was back in Cape Town in time for training at his beloved Green Point Cricket Club that Tuesday evening.

They had a vital match against Avondale two days later, and Elkin, after having been absent in Witbank for three months, wanted to prove his worth to a side he cares for deeply.

“It’s worth mentioning that they’ve looked after me, and have treated me as a professional cricket player,” says Elkin via email. “In turn, I have always loved playing for the club, and have been motivated to give my absolute best when playing for them, the disappointment of never having been given a proper go at Western Province.”

Whoever lost the Avondale game would be relegated, and it transpired that Elkin scored 83 in a 34-run victory. Green Point stayed up and, for good measure, he scored 91 against St Augustines in Green Point’s final match of the season.

Within weeks, he was in the Netherlands, playing for HBS in The Hague in the Topklasse, the Netherlands’ premier division. “I scored 800 runs in 18 league games at an average of 53,” says Elkin with a mild note of pride. “We ended up finishing fourth in the Dutch league.”

Elkin has been the top scorer in club cricket in Cape Town for the past three seasons, yet he’s been unable to nail down a regular spot in the Western Province semi-professional side. The excuses are often the same: he’s too old, or he plays for a not-very fashionable club who are in the second-tier of club competition.

Throughout our interview, he remains magnanimous and polite about his continued frustration. Only once does his diplomacy slip, and he retracts his momentary lapse by saying that he was speaking off the record.

Elkin still cherishes the dream of playing for Western Province, possibly even the Cobras, the irony being that he’s probably hitting the peak of his powers. Like spin bowlers and fine wines, batsmen traditionally mature late. Elkin is in perfect command of his game, with none other than Andrew Puttick, the former Western Province left-hander, having the following to say about the Green Point right-hander. “Zac takes the job of batting and scoring runs extremely seriously,” said Puttick, “often playing on bowler-friendly wickets.

“He is an effective batter who doesn’t worry too much about aesthetics but knows how to grind out runs especially when it’s tough. Zac also has a strong build, so has good power especially against spin.”

Despite clinging to his dream, Elkin also knows that time is running out. He’s prepared well for life without cricket, having read a degree in social policy at Cardiff University. Currently he’s studying psychology online through the South African College of Applied Psychology, a smart move, given that he’s walking a long, potholed road, and is in need of all the psychological help and succour he can get.

“My whole life has been geared to being a professional cricketer,” says Elkin at the beginning of our interview, and as you listen to him, you realise that never a truer word was spoken. He’s not Jacques Kallis and he’s not Dale Steyn, but that doesn’t mean that the flame doesn’t still burn very brightly indeed.

What he really needs now, you feel, is a little luck, a series of happy co-incidences or the trust of someone influential who believes that he has the talent to become a champion. Luck isn’t talked much about in sport because it feels nebulous. Yet, every team, every sportsman and women, needs a little if their world is to open up in the way they believe it should.

What if Makazole Mapimpi hadn’t scored that opening try against Japan in the quarter-final of the recent Rugby World Cup? What if Stuart Baxter still remained in charge of Bafana Bafana? Chance plays a more central role in sporting accomplishment than it should.

Elkin, who has been grinding in the trenches for so long, deserves his slice more than most.

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