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Indian players during a practice session ahead of their first Test against South Africa in Centurion on Tuesday. South African skipper Dean Elgar says the team is filled with pacers, which should worry the visitors. Image Credit: AP

Johannesburg: South Africa captain Dean Elgar said on Tuesday that his players had turned a stream of “bad news” about the country’s cricket into an advantage by forming a strong bond within their dressing room.

The 34-year-old leads his Proteas team into the first Test against India on Sunday against a backdrop of administrative instability, accusations of racism and the loss of key strike bowler Anrich Nortje.

“We’ve kind of gotten used to some bad news around us, the last year, year-and-a-half,” Elgar told a press conference. “As a players group, we adapt to it accordingly.

“It’s not ideal to have these headlines coming up, we just want to focus on our cricket, playing a really tough series against India.”

Cricket South Africa (CSA) announced on Monday that director of cricket Graeme Smith and Proteas head coach Mark Boucher will face formal hearings into claims of racial discrimination.

CSA also said that the three-match series and the ODI series, which follows, will be played behind closed doors because of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

“What happens off the field is irrelevant now,” said Elgar, who did not refer directly to the CSA announcement about Smith and Boucher.

“We’ve been through such bad times that we’ve formulated such a good bond within our group.

“Our culture has been tested and pushed to levels that I didn’t think it could be pushed to in my short term as captain.

“We’ve had so many different administrators, we don’t even know who’s there now.”

Endorsement to coaches

Elgar, however, who was appointed as full-time Test captain in March, offered a ringing endorsement of the coaching staff in general.

“We back our coaches, we back our management. They put in so much work that goes unnoticed. I know what they do behind the scenes.

“It’s not nice to see our coaches lambasted. We’re extremely grateful for the hard work they put in.”

Elgar twice described India as “the best team in the world” but said the South African team had put in three good days of preparation.

With the majority of the likely starting team having played little or no red-ball cricket this season, Elgar said the preparation had included match simulation, “which has been pretty productive.”

Anrich Nortje
Key South African pacer Anrich Nortje will be missing the three-Test series against India with a hip injury. Image Credit: AFP

Elgar acknowledged that India had a much-improved fast bowling line-up but said he backed his own bowlers, even without Nortje who has been ruled out of the three-match series because of a hip injury, in home conditions.

Nortje, who is capable of bowling in excess of 150kmh, has taken 46 wickets in ten Tests since the start of the 2019/20 season, 16 more than any of his teammates. He was named South Africa’s cricketer of the year in May.

Nortje’s injury opens the door for Duanne Olivier to return to the Test team after an absence of more than two years during which he played English county cricket for Yorkshire as a Kolpak player.

With seven other fast bowlers in South Africa’s squad for the series, no replacement will be called up for Nortje.

“We know that it’s going to be tough but we know that it’s going to be tough for the Indian batters to face our bowlers.

“I’d rather be sitting here knowing that than sitting in the Indian dressing room knowing they have to face our fast bowlers.”

Elgar said he expected a “good cricket wicket” at Centurion, which would enable batsmen to score runs if they applied themselves, while offering assistance to bowlers with pace and bounce.