Elgar: 'We were thrown under the sword and the guys responded brilliantly'
South Africa captain also heaps praise on Keegan Petersen who, he says, has "gone into a 'great player' mould now"
South Africa Test captain Dean Elgar is "extremely proud" of his team for "responding brilliantly" after being down 1-0 in the series to fight back and claim the trophy against the No. 1 Test side in the world. After clinching the series 2-1 with a seven-wicket win in Cape Town, Elgar said his team was "thrown under the sword" a few times in the series, and he had a few "tough chats" with his players, which they responded to "and grew massively in the last two Tests."
"Pretty elated, I think it will obviously sink in in a day or two, maybe this evening," Elgar told the host broadcaster at the presentation. "Couldn't be prouder of the group, of players I have underneath me. We were thrown under the sword quite a few times in the series and the guys responded brilliantly. After the first loss, the boys had a lot of hope going into the second and third [Tests] knowing we can still win this. We obviously had to follow our ways and processes going into those games. [I] asked the players to respond in a better nature, better way and they responded brilliantly. Extremely happy.
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When asked how the hosts turned things around despite not being as experienced as India, Elgar said: "Challenging your players within the group, characters as well. You need immense characters to stand up in these kinds of tough situations. The way our bowling unit came in and operated throughout the last two Tests has been brilliant; throughout the series they've been brilliant. Sixty wickets in a Test series is quite a tough challenge for them but I threw down the challenge after the first game and the guys responded brilliantly. We've got a young, talented group but the experience they've been gaining…in this environment every day we're gaining this experience, which is brilliant for us. It was unreal to see how a group that doesn't have the repertoire or names, how they could gel together and play as one. This is a proper unit that we've operated in and it's a proper team, by no means I can single-handedly pick out players because everyone has played a big part in vital situations throughout the series. Extremely, extremely proud of this group."
Like Elgar said, South Africa's bowling outshone their Indian counterparts throughout the series. Three of South Africa's four fast bowlers - Kagiso Rabada (20), Marco Jansen (19) and Lungi Ngidi (15) - topped the wicket charts while no India bowler could get to 15 wickets in the series.
India captain Virat Kohli also admitted at the presentation that South Africa's bowlers "were better at applying pressure in long periods of time." Elgar further said once he had laid down the challenge for his players, it was down to the XI to perform.
"Ultimately, if you want to operate at a high performance level, you need to have tough chats," Elgar said. "If guys don't like it, that's up for them to deal with. I've got an old-school mentality with bit of a new-school twist. I laid down some proper challenges to the senior players as well, to obviously stand up and respond and it was brilliant to see the guys take the message and follow it. It's one of the bigger challenges to get everyone on your side and buy in from a captain's point of view. The guys responded brilliantly. I've got absolutely no regrets going into the three-match series that we've played. I'd like to think I gave us the best message going forward in order to pull off a series win."
"Always known he's a good player. He's gone into a 'great player' mould now which is obviously a lot to say for guys who've only played a few or handful of Tests."Dean Elgar on Keegan Petersen's performance in the three Tests against India
Elgar also extolled the determination Keegan Petersen showed in the series, to emerge as their biggest highlight and a prospect for the future. Petersen, 28, struck three half-centuries in the last two Tests, including 72 and 82 in the third game, to lead the scoring charts with a tally of 276, which earned him the Player-of-the-Match and Series awards in only his fifth Test.
"Brilliant. He's the one who responded since the first game," Elgar said of Petersen. "He's been immense. I've known Keegan for quite some time now, I've played a lot of domestic cricket against him. Always known he's a good player. He's gone into a 'great player' mould now which is obviously a lot to say for guys who've only played a few or handful of Tests. He's only into his fifth Test now. I've always known he had this ability; he has dominated domestic cricket leagues from a run-scoring point of view and it's awesome to see him have a great series in the second and third Tests obviously. And long may he grow.
"I think there's still a lot of scope for improvement from his point of view. I think the world's his oyster at the moment. Even though he's a little bit older but he's somebody who's willing to learn, and you need characters like that. He's a proper character in the change room as well. He's got a bit of a light-hearted manner to him as well which is something you take for granted when you're playing serious cricket. Extremely proud of what KP has achieved."
Elgar said his responsibility as captain was to pull the team together after the first loss in Centurion "hurt" them when they went down by 113 runs.
"Us as a group, we've been hurting a little bit which is something for us to feed off," he said. "We played as a unit, and the bottom of the line is if you're playing as a unit, you can go a lot quicker.
"I think as a unit, we've grown massively within the last two Tests. The first Test loss hurt us, and we know from a South African point of view, if you want to compete in Test cricket and you want to be world No. 1 one day, you have to compete and beat the best in the world. I'm extremely happy that things worked out for us after that. It could have gone wrong, and I could have had egg on my face but massive respect for the players for following my message."
Elgar also hinted the series win could be a sign of things to come for the future of South Africa's Test cricket. After the ODIs against India, South Africa will fly to New Zealand for two Tests in February before they host Bangladesh for two Tests in March-April.
"By no means we're a finished article, I can tell you that," Elgar said with a smile. "I'm already thinking about the next series, which is something I need to manage and control because I'm going to blow my brain out. It's a lot of positives going into that next series, there's a lot of negatives that we also have to work on. We have hit it on the head and in order to grow we need to curb those challenges that we have."
Vishal Dikshit is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo