Pakistan v South Africa, World T20 2012, Super Eights, Colombo September 28, 2012

South Africa upbeat despite defeat

South African captains' reactions to shock defeats have changed recently. With Graeme Smith, it was always fire and ire. He would spit out words defending his team but his eyes would remain cold and empty. With AB de Villiers it's giggle and grin.

So far, de Villiers has decided not to take things as seriously as his predecessor. That may change if South Africa crumble when it really matters. For now, they have only been beaten in a group match and if they perform well enough in their next two, de Villiers' response will look like a masterstroke.

Instead of focusing on his own range of misjudgements - not bowling the spinners out and batting too far down the order himself - de Villiers chose to focus on the half-full side of losing. He used the word "proud," to describe how he felt after South Africa's performance. It was an unusual choice given the ultimate result but not too odd when considered in the context of the defeat.

A South African side of old would likely not have come back into the game three times. They probably would not have been able to get to 133, because they may not have had the middle-order presence of JP Duminy. They probably would have been so spooked by not being able to pick Saeed Ajmal that they would have collapsed for less than 90. They would probably not have the spinners to make early breakthroughs or the gut and heart to take the match into the final few overs. For that, there is reason to be proud.

From a position where South Africa could have lost by an enormous margin, they ended up losing by only two wickets. It may be simply because their opposition was as unpredictable as only Pakistan can be but it may be because they have made small progress, both in the skills department and from a mental perspective.

Robin Peterson, who was one of the bowlers that shoved South Africa back into contention and has been part of the national squad for almost a decade, thinks so. South Africa fought from 28 for 3, to post 133 and that recovery gave them hope that they could win. "I think we had enough runs," he said bullishly, despite South Africa's below-par total. "We thought we had a good chance to defend it but it's not every day that someone scores a special innings like that."

Umar Gul's blitz put the contest back in Pakistan's hands and South Africa could do nothing but acknowledge that he changed the match. That is something they have been unable and perhaps even unwilling to do in the past.

What remains is to place similar importance on their own failings. The batting recovery was admirable but de Villiers may have made a difference if he came in higher up. That could speak to the concept of the floating line-up as a whole, which South Africa have stuck with under Gary Kirsten. Although it has worked for them so far, it adds a degree of unsettledness to the team and digressing from it, to a more traditional looking batting order today could have yielded a different total.

The same can be said for the use of bowlers. They came back exceptionally after Pakistan were off to a flier and pegged them back. To ask that they did it a second time, after Gul's onslaught may have been too much. But to ask that slower bowlers are used on surface that suits them would not be but it was a road South Africa weren't willing to go down.

"Hindsight is always a perfect thing," Peterson said. "AB made the calls and he brought on bowlers that he thought were going to make an impact. It's difficult to say who could have made an impact when but we stuck to our gameplans. Maybe we need to revisit one or two things."

An admission, at least, that some rethinking would not be wasted on them. That may be the third way of responding to defeat: with thought. Instead of anger or frivolity, genuine analysis.

Some will say South Africa choked even though they did not. De Villiers seems to be able to recognise that this defeat was not catastrophic and how he responds will be telling as South Africa aim to map a different course at this event.

It seems as though his players know that, too "We are at a different tournament and we've got another opportunity to get it right," Peterson said. "We are doing things slightly differently behind the scenes and so hopefully things will go better for us."

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent

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