Sri Lanka v South Africa, 3rd ODI, Pallekele July 25, 2013

We win games when squeezed - De Villiers

Last year in Sri Lanka, AB de Villiers became the first South Africa captain to own up to choking in high pressure limited-overs games. He used the C word liberally both before and after the tournament as though he'd been instructed to publicly embrace the tag as a means of overcoming the team's mental woes in major tournaments.

Ten months later, de Villiers is asserting the opposite about his side's ability to triumph when much is at stake. South Africa will lose the series if they lose another match, but in bilateral affairs, pressure brings out their best, de Villiers said.

"I believe it's the other way around in this series," he said. "When we get squeezed into a corner, we win games. We wake up a bit late in ODI series especially. We lose the first one and the second one maybe, and then all of a sudden, 'woah, let's wake up and start playing cricket now'. If we do the basics well for 100 overs we'll definitely win. I believe in the boys."

De Villiers was also intent on distancing his side from a woeful record in Sri Lanka, despite having lost their first two matches in the series. South Africa have lost their last 11 matches in the country against the hosts, with only one victory to their name. The last ODI series in 2004 was a whitewash, though only JP Duminy and Robin Peterson of the current squad appeared for South Africa then.

"I just want to set one thing clear because I see it in TV screens all over - the fact that we've lost 11 games in a row here. I haven't been part of that. I've played two games and these are my first two ODIs that I've ever played in this country. I don't really care about what happened in the last nine games," said De Villiers "People seem to make a big thing of it. I'm not upset about it and I know it's part of our history, but this team doesn't need the luggage of the past nine games. All these guys are on their first tour here apart from a guy like JP, who made his debut here last time. We'd like to change that. We're 2-0 down now and still alive in this series."

De Villiers also called for more application from his batsmen, who between them are yet to produce a score in excess of 30 in the series. Faced with two tall chases - the second of which was revised via a Duckworth-Lewis calculation - South Africa lost too many wickets before the 20th over to mount a serious challenge.

"It's not really because we were being too aggressive," he said. "We struggled to adapt to the change of the Powerplays. We did really well in the Powerplay, even though we lost a wicket in the first over in both games, we seemed to recover really well. After the Powerplay was done and the field spread, we just lost wickets out of nowhere.

"I think there was a lack of awareness from our side - just awareness that we are playing 50-over cricket here, not 20 overs. Maybe for the first 20 overs we need to have more of a Test-match mindset, and from 10 to 20 to really get partnerships going and get stuck into the conditions and all the bowlers. Maybe we'll give them one spell and look at their second spell to attack. We haven't really had the opportunity to look at that yet, because we haven't batted for that long."

South Africa have lost eight of their 15 wickets this series to spin, but de Villiers was confident his side had hatched a plan to neutralise the threat, particularly that of Rangana Herath who is the leading wicket-taker in the series so far, with five dismissals at 8.20.

"We've been a bit lackadaisical when it comes to playing Herath and we've tried to hit him too square," De Villiers said. "We all know he doesn't get a lot of bounce. He's a skiddy kind of bowler, so we'll try to play him straighter, which we did well in South Africa. He's definitely handier in his own conditions and maybe he gets a bit more turn. But he's not a massive threat for us."

Andrew Fidel Fernando is ESPNcricinfo's Sri Lanka correspondent. He tweets here