We are under pressure - de Villiers
AB de Villiers has admitted South Africa's senior batsmen are not pulling their weight in the one-day series against England, and singled himself out as a prime example, after the home side took a 2-1 lead at Lord's following another unconvincing performance from South Africa's top order.
Since Hashim Amla made 150 in Southampton no South Africa batsman has posted a half-century in the next two games at The Oval and Lord's and both innings have struggled for momentum despite solid opening partnerships from Amla and Graeme Smith. At Lord's they slipped from 100 for 1 in the 25th over when Amla was bowled by Ravi Bopara, to 115 for 4 which meant rebuilding was needed, only then to lose their way again from 166 for 4 and finish their allocation eight down.
As at The Oval the key moment came when de Villiers fell to James Tredwell, this time stumped with his foot on the line, and despite a forceful 31 off 20 balls by Robin Peterson they could not post a total to seriously challenge England.
With Amla twice cut-off when set for sizable innings following his monumental display in the second match, South Africa's batting has looked light in the absence of Jacques Kallis - rested for this series. While that was with a view to the World Twenty20, it is also giving South Africa the sight of a slightly uncomfortable future although de Villiers defended the talent available.
"The guys who have come in, they can play," he said. "I've seen them win matches for their teams back home on the big stage in finals and stuff like that. But they are inexperienced and when you have inexperience in your team you need the senior players to take control, including myself. Getting out for 20s and 30s isn't good enough at this level it's as simple as that.
"We had the opportunity in our batting to kick on with some of our partnerships and that's where we went wrong today. That's two in a row and there's a bit of pressure on our top order now. We've really got to step up to the plate and make it count - myself included. We got into nice partnerships but didn't convert like England did."
While victory in this series is gone, South Africa do not want their batting to be dragged down ahead of the World Twenty20 in Sri Lanka; although Kallis will be back to bolster them. De Villiers said the players will discuss their problems before the final match at Trent Bridge on Wednesday.
"We are under pressure and will have a batting meeting about where we can improve. I'd like to think the whole of the top six can play as a unit but we haven't been performing well. Going forward we need more partnerships, that's where you get momentum and we haven't had enough of that. We've had one partnership in every game. There's no excuse, the guys are batting in the places they feel comfortable."
For much of South Africa's visit it has been the England captains fielding the tricky questions, but Alastair Cook was able to reflect on convincing back-to-back victories which have turned the series around after a poor performance in Southampton that threatened to engulf the final few weeks of the season.
"Clearly after what's happened this summer, we could have let our heads go down - a bit of a case of 'here we go again'," he said. "We admitted we didn't get it right at the Ageas Bowl, and we've bounced back really well. We've still got a series to win but I'm very proud of what we've done this weekend in back-to-back matches. It's an encouraging sign that after a heavy loss, we've stayed true to ourselves and played so well."
It was another far from faultless performance in the field with two catches put down and a clear run out chance missed, but the England's bowler's sustained pressure on South Africa's struggling middle order throughout and rarely let the run rate get near five an over.
"We didn't quite get our rewards early," Cook said. "A couple of chances went down but what was really pleasing was we stuck to our task, kept trying to apply pressure and picked up wickets at crucial times."
Cook also confirmed that the extent of Jonathan Trott's hand injury, sustained after a blow from Dale Steyn early in his 48, will be known on Monday after the batsman has X-rays. Trott was in clear discomfort throughout the innings before falling lbw. If he is unavailable for the final match of the series it would open the door for Jonny Bairstow to finally get a chance to bring his impressive form to the 50-over side.
Andrew McGlashan is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo