South Africa v India, 3rd ODI, Cape Town January 19, 2011

Smith left to rue missed opportunities

Two matches, two close defeats, crucial mistakes in the final stages of both matches. South Africa have to be hurting. Batsmen freezing might just be the lesser of the evils. They pride themselves on their fielding, and tonight they dropped two catches they would normally take nine times out of 10. Zaheer Khan got reprieved on nought, Harbhajan Singh on 12, and the duo carried India home. Something similar happened when they were batting: after recovering well from an average start, they slumped from 198 for 4 in 44.4 overs to 220 all out.

Graeme Smith chose to focus on that period - during the end of an innings - that has hurt them the most in this series. "I think 220 gave us a chance. The wicket was very difficult to bat on, had sort of plates on it, and its two-paced nature made strokes very difficult. It also had up and down bounce," he said. "[But] we were really hoping for 240. I think 240 would have been a really good total there. JP [Duminy] and [debutant] Faff du Plessis played well together to take us to a decent total [rescuing them from 90 for 4]. Our Powerplay was poor again, we lost JP and Faff within two overs, and we only got 19 overs in our last six overs.

"I really felt if we got 240 we were in with a real good chance of winning the game. We came real close, we missed two crucial chances at the back end, but I can't fault the guys' commitment tonight, their intensity and the effort they gave."

The commitment was of course there, in the way Morne Morkel and Dale Steyn bowled, in the way they caught, Steyn off his own bowling and Morkel at third man. Also pleasing was how - despite an expectedly nervous start - du Plessis made it easier for the selectors to pick him for the World Cup.

"Terrific to see a guy like him come in," Smith said. "He had a good domestic season, and just to carry that on here is good. He has prepared well, I have watched him in training. He will bring a lot to the squad I think. It was great to see him and play that well. Especially under pressure. We were under pressure when he came in. I think he has something special, which is good."

Smith said the key to bouncing back from such close defeats in back-to-back games was to not change what has been working for them. "I think it's always important to keep doing the right things at training," he said. "Keep reiterating the same point. The margins have been so small in the last two games, we could easily be 2-1 up or 3-0 up. Just got to keep training hard and keep doing the right things and hopefully the things will kick into place.

"The World Cup squad comes out tonight, that will ease a lot of minds and stress on players. Hopefully free up a lot of players, and make them play with sort of freedom in the next few games."

They will need all the freedom because the opposition - an under-strength one at that - is sensing they are under pressure. "Our team is full of confidence right now," Yusuf Pathan, Man of the Match tonight, said. "South Africa will obviously be under pressure because they have lost two matches, and we have done better in pressure situation. We made a comeback in the previous game, and here too. So the pressure will be there."

Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo

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