De Villiers targets South Africa fightback
The last time South Africa lost a home Test and ODI series against the same opposition over the course of a single tour was 14 years ago, before AB de Villiers had made his international debut. Perhaps that's why, even though they are one loss away from repeating that ignominious feat against Australia, de Villiers remains upbeat about their chances of coming back in the current series.
"England are a good side. They are playing some good cricket at the moment, they look confident but they are not unbeatable," de Villiers said after the Port Elizabeth loss. "We had a couple of opportunities in both the games we played and I know it sounds like I am singing the same song from the Test matches but it's true, it's a matter of getting it right and taking our opportunities. In Bloemfontein we had a chance to get it right, I knew that rain was going to come and we didn't get the timing right. Today again, we had the opportunity to take them down and unfortunately it didn't happen that way."
South Africa squandered some chances in their use of the DRS system - Quinton de Kock used a review early in their innings which could have benefitted JP Duminy later on and the same player later called for a review in the field which was also incorrect against Alex Hales. However, they also let other opportunities slip. At 204 for 4 in the 41st over, despite the tricky nature of the surface, they could have still targeted de Villiers' ideal score of 280-plus. Instead, they lost four for 40 and were kept to 262.
"I thought 280 was par and I said 300 would have been nice. We've got the potential in our batting line-up to get scores like that," de Villiers said. "Unfortunately I got out at a bad time and a couple of dismissals later we were in trouble."
Middle-order meltdowns are not new to South Africa and the state of the current line-up may lead to a recall for David Miller, who South Africans will expect to play in the same mould as Jos Buttler.
Eoin Morgan praised the newly contracted IPL player for his finishing which included slamming three sixes off Imran Tahir in the 46th over to finish things off earlier than expected. "The game was in the balance until that over," Morgan said. "He just took the game by the scruff of the neck, which top-class players do."
De Villiers also had compliments for Buttler but rued the half-chances his own team missed. "He is an outstanding player. He didn't surprise me. He played it to perfection. Just where I thought it was a good chance for us to get a couple of dot balls, he went for the boundary. He outplayed my thinking," de Villiers said.
"It's a fine line, one or two things went his way. Same with Moeen [Ali] and same with [Ben] Stokes. Had those things gone a little bit differently, you never know what would have happened. Those 50-50 calls and 50-50 moments in the game where you have to play well to win the game, we didn't play well."
In the end, England's chase was calculated and clinical but completely unlike the aggressive brand of cricket they have been playing since their reinvention. To be able to pull off that kind of performance proved to Morgan that his team is developing in the right direction.
"Over the past three series we've played, we've only played similar to that once and we came out the back of that challenge really well today," he said. "The style of cricket that we do play is great and hopefully down the line we will improve as a team and that will help us win more competitions and strive to be a better side. Today's performance shows we are not all crash, bang, wallop. we can play proper cricket."
With both bases covered and South Africa struggling to select a properly balanced side, England could easily think they had the series sewn up but, if they do, Morgan knows better than to admit that. "I don't think we have them under the pump. I think today was a huge win for us because the game was in the balance," he said. "If they had got over the line, it would have been a turning point in the series and stolen a lot of momentum from us. The fact that we've won it puts us in a really good position going into Pretoria."
De Villiers may agree with some of that but with three must-win matches in a row, he cannot think further than the next one. "If we were 2-nil up, I would have given you the same answer. It's very important to look at the next ODI and to take it one small step at a time," he said.
"I can't help but think, shit we have got to win three games in a row to win this series. Shucks, I mean. But that's the fact of the matter. In situations like this, whether you are 2-nil up or 2-nil down, you have to take a small step. The next game is important for us. Shucks."
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent