'No way we are underdogs at home' - De Villiers
AB de Villiers' most explosive expressions are usually seen when he is at the crease. The cheeky lap shot, the powerful smack down the ground, and the crisp drive are his way of composing lyrics, scribbling sentences, and doodling dreams.
It's rare for de Villiers to use the spoken word with the same kind of fierceness, more so in his role as South Africa's one-day captain. Usually his public statements are motivational, complimentary and courteous. But on the eve of his team's biggest ODI assignment since the Champions Trophy, that changed.
De Villiers launched an unusually aggressive attack against the visitors, warning them that South Africa will not be taken lightly despite the difference in rankings between the two teams.
"Some of the knowledgeable people will say we are underdogs but there is no way we are going to stand back and allow that to happen in home conditions," de Villiers said. "If we play to our full potential, there is no one in the world who can stop us here. We must remember we are playing against a subcontinental team in our conditions and they have a very bad record here."
He has a point. India have won only five matches out of the 25 they have played against South Africa in this country, and they have never won a bilateral series here. Although Pakistan last week became the first team from the subcontinent to beat South Africa in an ODI series at home, de Villiers still considers it their fortress. South Africa have won 68% of matches they played at home.
De Villiers believes they can extend that record over the World Cup and Champions Trophy winners, even though the current South African ODI squad has struggled to dominate any opposition in the last two years. "We are under pressure here in our own country," he said. "We just lost a series so confidence is not hugely high but I still have confidence in the guys that we can beat the No.1 team."
Conditions are being prepared to allow South Africa to show off their strongest suit - fast bowling - with what de Villiers called "a lot of grass" on the pitch the day before the match. That strategy has backfired on South Africa in the past, with the opposition quicks enjoying the surfaces as well, but de Villiers does not think it will happen this time because of the lack of strength in India's pack.
"They are certainly not the best bowling attack in the world," he said. "It's an area where we feel we can get on top of them." Numbers back de Villiers up on that. India's bowlers conceded over 300 in five of their last eight ODIs, and over 260 twice. They failed to defend 303 against Australia, and 288 against West Indies. Their seamers in particular, took a beating.
But the other side of that argument is that the Indian batsmen have been consistently excellent this year, so much so that they have often made up for their bowlers being hit for big scores. Their totals have soared as high as 383, with their powerful line-up proving that almost anything is chaseable. De Villiers, however, predicted that there will be no such overflow of runs in the upcoming series owing to South African conditions, in which even the hosts have struggled sometimes.
South Africa have not crossed the 300-mark in their last 16 ODIs as they have grappled with trying to get combinations in the top-order right. That's not a statistic that concerns Villiers. "It's not a worry that we haven't gone over 300 because I don't believe we have played on the grounds that have allowed us to do so."
South Africa have played on slow surfaces in the UAE and Sri Lanka most recently and at home, where de Villiers has repeatedly pointed out that the size of the grounds makes big totals more difficult to rack up. While that may be the reality, it does not paper over South Africa's problems when posting totals, especially when chasing. Their penchant for losing wickets, just when they are getting going, as well as their struggle for sizeable partnerships are issues that need immediate sorting.
When the series against Pakistan ended, de Villiers blamed a "lack of care" for those shortcomings, and he expects South Africa to put that right this time around. Hashim Amla and Jacques Kallis are the likely anchors, while Quinton de Kock, JP Duminy, David Miller and de Villiers himself are the big hitters in the side.
"We've got a couple of guys who know their roles really well. One or two need to bat for as long as possible and the rest of us are attacking," he said. "The balance is there, we just have to get it right. We showed we can be very dangerous as a team, when we have wickets in hand."
India have done the same, but on surfaces with good bounce and carry, de Villiers seems to think they will come off second best and in saying that, he has laid down the gauntlet for what could be a short, but hotly contested series.
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent