South Africa v India, 4th ODI, Port Elizabeth January 20, 2011

Smith aims to win key moments

Weakness against spin, two collapses and losing the key moments - these are the key issues that have dogged South Africa in their last two ODI defeats against India

In both their close defeats of the last week, South Africa can identify common failings that they desperately need to work on. The two collapses in Johannesburg and Cape Town are the obvious ones, as are losing key moments. The way the Indian lower order finished off the tight chase in Cape Town was in contrast to how the South African batsmen froze in Johannesburg.

The less obvious problem that South Africa had, and one that should concern them given they are playing at home, is how they struggled against the spinners. In the previous two games, they managed only 167 runs in 42 overs of spin. Only 19 of those overs were bowled by India's specialist spinner, Harbhajan Singh, off whom they scored only two boundaries in two games.

All these will be termed by many as South Africa's traditional problems, much to their dislike. Not only to stay alive in this series, on what is usually the slowest pitch in the country, but also in the World Cup to come, they will have to overcome their troubles against spin, and their habit of not winning tight games.

Graeme Smith chose to focus on the issue of losing key moments, rather than the spin problem, on the eve of the must-win game. "Harbhajan has bowled extremely well," Smith said. "The nature of the wickets also [has played a part], they haven't been easy to bat on. India, too, have struggled to bat on those wickets.

"I thought if we could have got 20 more runs [it would have made the difference] ... we were well set up to get those 20 more runs … [but] the disappointing thing for me is that we have [lost] 5 for 30 and 6 for 20 in our last two games. If you probably take that out of our game, we would probably be 3-0 up. Otherwise, we have played decent enough cricket throughout the vast majority of the games. We just haven't handled those moments where we needed to kick on or make the right decisions well. Those are the lessons that we can learn, and hopefully we can come out tomorrow and play with a good spirit and get those things right."

Smith also hinted that the announcement of the World Cup squad, which was always around the corner, might have had a thing or two to do with the younger players being slightly tense. "Now that the World Cup squad is announced, the tension has kind of lifted on the players and the way they play the game, so hopefully tomorrow we can play with a bit more freedom."

Smith said it was better for the young side to lose now and learn its lessons rather than experience it in bigger events. "Losing is never a nice thing, but there are some important lessons for us in the last two games," he said. "It's a good time for us to learn from those lessons now - take those lessons forward, keep a good positive and attacking frame of mind."

Smith looked more relaxed than he has done during press conferences on this tour so far, even though rain on the eve of the match meant his side couldn't train at the ground. That should hardly make a difference, though, because teams play so much these days that they don't need switching on before every game, especially at the fag end of a tour.

South Africa can draw confidence from playing in Port Elizabeth, where the side often gets strong and vocal support from the crowd. "PE fans in particular are great supporters of the team," Smith said. "We have got some of the most vibrant crowds in the country here; the guys really do enjoy playing here. The Warriors have been very successful at their home ground over the last period of time, and to have Lopsy [Lonwabo Tsotsobe], Colin [Ingram] and Johan [Botha] with their knowledge of the ground is crucial. We will certainly tap in to that."

It is a proud record that South Africa need to defend. They have never lost a home ODI series to teams other than Australia and England. Before the start of the series, they had lost to India at home only on three occasions. The tally could be doubled and South Africa will have to prevent that to keep the series alive. "It's exciting, it's an opportunity to perform," Smith said. "I don't think it's a time where you look at it and say, 'I have to perform tomorrow, I have to make a difference.' There will be 11 of us on the field tomorrow, and we have got to trust each other that each of us will perform our roles and we have got to be good enough to get us over the line."

Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Deepak on January 21, 2011, 11:39 GMT

    I think Graeme Smith is an Indian supporter !! His comments do not help his own team but cast more doubt in their own abilities. He needs to take a page out of Kristen/Dhoni playbook and understand the psychology of the game. ODIs are unlike Test Cricket, where fortunes change in a split of a second and win/loss margins are razor thin. Graeme I believe feels more and more insecure after every loss, but wants to portray a picture of confidence in front of the media...thats why only excuses come rolling out of his mouth at the pressers.

  • Shyam on January 21, 2011, 11:33 GMT

    "If you probably take that out of our game, we would probably be 3-0 up" ...what a joke!!

    Yes, Mr. Smith... and if you had probably lost the toss in the first test and Kallis had probably been injured in the third, then India would surely have won the test series 3-0.

  • Dummy4 on January 21, 2011, 11:12 GMT

    Is India All Set For The Greatest Glory

  • Dummy4 on January 21, 2011, 9:59 GMT

    Wow...NOW SA has got one more tag along with Chokers. That is "Whiners/Cribbers".

  • hari on January 21, 2011, 9:15 GMT

    Guys , those who thinks the main reason for the loss is because only the absence of Kallis , India too missing its cream Sachin, Sewag and Gambhir

  • Matthew on January 21, 2011, 8:28 GMT

    @BravoBravo...although SA has lost the last two games you surely can't put them in the same category...NZ have lost the last 11 ODI matches and are more than 20 points behind SA on ICC rankings. I think that there is very little difference between SA and India in terms of overall team strength, but something that India have trumped SA in is spin bowling, and whats been so surprising is that they've trumped SA on pitches that are not supposed to be conducive to spin. Because Kallis is out, we lose a specialist batsman. I still think that it would have been good to play our three best players of spin - Kallis, de Villiers and Boucher in the subcontinent - but at least two of them will be there. Hopefully Tahir will replace parnell today at PE.

  • Dummy4 on January 21, 2011, 7:57 GMT

    Re 1st loss: If any SA batsmen had hit 1 more run or Parnell's shot yielded a 1, 2 or 4 as well, and then we would not be having this debate. It was not as though India covered themselves in glory in that match besides spirit. Both sides struggled and frankly a tail ender swiping at a ball in a 2 run or 1 wicket to win situation is a toss-up!

    Re 2nd loss: More concerning. 5 for 30 = 6 runs per wicket in first loss. 6 for 20 was half that in the second loss i.e. 2x as bad. If we had collapsed 'as badly' in the 2nd ODI we would have had 16 more runs on the board and the result would have been as close as the first test.

    Lessons for SA: - Forget boundaries in the power play. Score the runs. Assume the field placing merely increases the probability of boundaries. - Take all batting power plays early with recognised batsmen hopefully making good decisions. A faster start can only add pressure.

  • Dummy4 on January 21, 2011, 7:57 GMT

    the main difference is kallis. when kallis will come than the other player will not under pressure to stay at wicket and no1 have doubt about kallis ability to play spin and boost the team

  • sasi on January 21, 2011, 7:52 GMT

    3 fast men & botha are good. Worrying part is 5th bowler. Even after Kallis make his return they will need one to perform consistently. It will be better for them to use the second spinner also. Duminy has to be used bowl 6 overs if they want invest on his ability. Batting is main issue as Amla throws away wicket. Smith is showing no confidence; too much pressure on him. Devillers & Duminy needs support from two young men. Enough problems are there to fix prior to World cup.

  • sasi on January 21, 2011, 7:41 GMT

    So far so good. It is is a concern all of fast bowlers dont show any quality in holding the bat for 5 overs in support to Yusuf or the one left with a chance to win a match. Once they will go for two fast & two slow bowlers; i think it will be a better batting tail. Piyush & Aswin are believed to be ok for 7 or 8. South African problems will only be solved when Kallis is back in action. Now they are short of two batters & a bowler. Botha can bowl. He cant be expected to bat for 15-20 overs. Batting does not show consistency for them. Hopes for another thriller

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