We expected India to bounce back - de Villiers
AB de Villiers offered no excuses for South Africa being bundled out for 131 in their first innings against India in Durban. "We batted extremely poorly. There were quite a few soft wickets, but they also bowled well," he said at the end-of-day press conference.
It was as simple as that for the South African number four, who fell to the best delivery Sreesanth bowled all day, a leg-cutter that had him edging to the keeper without scoring. Sreesanth, along with Ishant Sharma, were much better bowlers with the return of India spearhead Zaheer Khan, who made a noticeable impact. "He put us under pressure from the word go," de Villiers said.
de Villiers admitted that India were a more threatening attack than they were in Centurion, where they were unable to dismiss South Africa once. "Their lengths and lines were spot on. They bowled a bit wide to us so we had to leave a few more." The Indian fight back may have been surprising to some, but de Villiers said that South Africa were bracing for some form of revival from the world's top ranked Test side. "You expect the No. 1 team to bounce back after a poor performance. They caught us offside today."
Instead of blaming the Durban pitch, known for its bounce and swing, for a third team total in the 130s in three Tests for South Africa, de Villiers said the inept performance made the pitch look more dangerous that what it was. "18 wickets in the day is not a true reflection of how the wicket is playing. It's playing better than that." He felt that the batsmen simply needed to push on once they got starts. "When you get to 30 or 40 it gets easier. You get used to the pace, bounce and swing. You can set yourself a nice platform and do nicely."
The discomfort the batsmen felt was evident, however, as only Alviro Petersen and Hashim Amla managed more than 20 runs. With India batting again, VVS Laxman is primed to be the man who settles in and makes that big score. South Africa are aware that he has the ability to take the game away from them and urge the batsmen around him to do the same. "We've seen him play big knocks for India before under pressure," de Villiers said. "He manages the player at the other end well, who is a youngster at the moment. He is definitely a danger man at the moment."
It's capturing early wickets that South Africa are targeting to prevent Laxman from making himself too comfortable. de Villiers thinks that the bowlers continue to hold advantage as the match goes on, particularly the tweakers. "There's always going to be something in it for the bowlers, even a little bit of spin Harris and Harbhajan both bowled well, getting a bit of bounce and turn. We're just going to have to come out here and get a few early wickets and restrict them to 250, which is very chase-able.
"We would like to chase something in between 240 and 260. After a very poor performance today, we'd like to come out and prove ourselves and play well again. Even if we have to chase 300, we'll give it a good go."
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent