Elgar: 'Playing in our backyard gives us the upper hand'
"Their strength at the moment lies in their bowling. We are extremely aware of that as well"
South Africa captain Dean Elgar believes his side holds the edge in the upcoming three Tests against India by dint of playing on home conditions, even though they are "wary" of how well India have fared in overseas conditions recently to be the No. 1-ranked Test team in the world.
"I think it's pretty even-stevens. Us playing at home, obviously, gives us a little bit of an upper hand," Elgar said two days out from the Boxing Day Test in Centurion. "They are ranked No. 1 in the world; we can't not look at that. That's something they have been for quite some time, in my opinion - just my being a cricket watcher and a cricket fan.
"You can't not give them the credit for what they have done over the last while. So, I am not going to sit here and say they are not the best side in the world because there's a ranking system for a reason. But the mere fact that we're playing in our backyard gives us still the upper hand going into the series."
India's 2-1 Test series victory on Australian shores earlier this year was key to propelling them into the inaugural World Test Championship final, where they finished runners-up to New Zealand. Hot on the heels of the title clash came the assignment against hosts England, which India dictated with a 2-1 scoreline before concerns around Covid-19 reduced the five-match Test assignment to four, with the fifth fixture postponed until 2022.
On both tours India's bowling attack, their pace contingent in particular, underpinned the majority of their dominance. With them expected to stick to their five-bowler make-up in South Africa, Elgar admitted the visitors' attack posed the home team the most potent challenge in conditions typically conducive to speed, movement, and carry.
"Their strength at the moment lies in their bowling," Elgar said. "We are extremely aware of that as well. They've had a lot of successes as a bowling unit. They've got a lot of older spearhead bowlers that lead the attack and have got a good back-up set of bowlers as well.
"And being in South Africa, I'm pretty sure their bowling attack will exploit the conditions reasonably well. Just knowing that we have our seamers and we've got a little bit of pace and bounce and the wickets may be do a little bit more in South Africa than it does anywhere else around the world."
Despite their triumphant showings in overseas conditions in the recent past, with their resurgence in the longest format having its roots in their victory in Johannesburg four years ago in a 1-2 loss to South Africa, that India are yet to clinch a Test series in the country could, Elgar said, enthuse Virat Kohli's team to go for the jugular.
"It (India having success in Australia and England) is something we're obviously wary of. They've improved a lot with regards to their travelling record," Elgar said, "I know Virat Kohli has emphasised on that kind of point - that they wanted to improve their record on the road. [We are] Extremely mindful of that; they have set themselves that standard. And I'm sure they're going to try and fulfill it within this series.
"And as much as I have the power of being the leader of this team, I'm going to try and prevent them from fulfilling that role or that dream of theirs. That makes an exciting and challenging series coming up for both teams. We know they're going to come out firing; we're extremely mindful of that as well. I'm pretty sure they know we're also going to come out firing. Either way it's going to be an extremely exciting Test series."
Annesha Ghosh is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo. @ghosh_annesha