Sri Lanka v South Africa, 5th ODI, Colombo July 30, 2013

'Situation allows us to free up a bit' - de Villiers

A South African side, missing their spearhead and their most experienced opening batsman, would be happy with only a 3-2 loss in Sri Lanka, AB de Villiers said on the eve of the dead rubber in Colombo. In one year, South Africa have slipped from first to fifth on the ICC ODI rankings, but their captain suggested a narrow series loss constituted a positive outcome for the side, given the inexperience on tour.

Graeme Smith and Dale Steyn were unavailable for the tour because of injuries, while Jacques Kallis is unlikely to play bilateral one-day series in future. South Africa also missed Hashim Amla at the top of the order in the first three matches, due to injury.

"It would sound a lot better to lose 3-2 than 4-1," de Villiers said. "We can't do better than losing 3-2 right now, but if you look at a tough tour here, with a youngish, inexperienced team, to lose 3-2 would be a great effort in the long run, I think. We've got a lot to gain in this last game. I think the guys would take a lot of confidence just losing a series 3-2 against Sri Lanka, thinking ahead to playing against Pakistan in the UAE soon. We're still working on a few things. We've got a lot to improve on with bat, ball and in the field, so we'd like to get that going tomorrow."

De Villiers also suggested pressure had paralysed the flair in South Africa's game in this series, and he hoped that with the series already decided, his side would play a freer brand of cricket. South Africa's innings has tended to stagnate throughout the series, most notably in the fourth ODI, when they were dismissed for 238 after having been 118 for 1 after 22 overs.

"We haven't played as well as we could recently, and we're still representing a very proud nation, so there is pressure in this match," he said. "But the situation allows us to maybe free up a bit - to try a few combinations, and try a few shots that we haven't tried before and really express ourselves. We've been a bit stuck at times in this series. Guys have focused so much on the basics that we almost forget how to showcase our skills. It's time to let go a bit and also get the basics right, but really free the boys up to play some proper cricket."

De Villiers also conceded South Africa's attempts to play a spin-heavy attack in Sri Lankan conditions early in the series had been misguided, and that the quicks would dominate the attack on Wednesday. They had fielded two specialist spinners for the first two matches, but had their only victory after moving away from that strategy in Pallekele. Between them, Robin Peterson, Aaron Phangiso and JP Duminy have taken only six wickets in the series, while Sri Lanka's three spinners have taken 18.

"I think we focused a little bit too much on trying to play like them in their conditions," de Villiers said. "We may just stick with our normal formation of four seamers and one main spinner, with JP [Duminy], who has been bowling really well. He's been an outstanding performer for us. That makes it a bit easier to go with the extra seamer."

De Villiers himself has struggled with the bat this series, hitting 86 in total at an average of 21.50. He said the paucity of runs was particularly frustrating because he feels in good nick.

"I'm hitting the ball as sweetly as I ever have," he said. "My game plan is in place, and everything else is in place. I've received a few good deliveries in this series and the last dismissal was a bit soft. You'd like to think that when the best players in the world get in, they make it count. I haven't been doing that of late. I haven't changed anything at all. It's not like I'm trying different shots. I've got my game plan and I'm sticking exactly to that."

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

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Altaf on July 31, 2013, 9:29 GMT

    After win in 3rd ODI, DeVillier said, we perform well when under-pressure. Now says, freedom will improve them. Contradictory statement...The fact is, there are lots of things that tended SA to lose in series and its not only psychological factor that give you win. When there was 110/1 in 20 overs in 4th ODI what, caused them to bowl under 250 ? Lots of wide deliveries, not enough spinners or no specialist batsman against spin in the team etc. are the real cause of the loss and they demand through investigation before the situation continues in the future.

  • Hanro on July 31, 2013, 8:50 GMT

    Let's not buy into any of this inexperience nonsense. A lot of the guys in the team have been in and around the team for 3 years plus.

    The bulk of the players lack the grit to play international cricket. Although some of them may have matured a sense of we're playing for our country because it's 'fun' has crept in.

    Where is the damn pride. AB should not be captain (if I see that damn wry/almost happy smile again after a loss...). Just look at his batting, the manner in which he gets out is not leading the team. There is no doubt he is probably the most talented batsman of the lot, but he himself needs a captain telling him how to structure his innings. The captaincy needs to change or we'll get to the end of AB's career and look back much the same as with Gibbs. We'll smile at the good times, but have a feeling in our gut that so much more could have been accomplished in his career.

  • Vishwaksena on July 31, 2013, 8:48 GMT

    ab is class act!matthews is a package!

  • waqas on July 31, 2013, 7:16 GMT

    Agree with Samwinston92. Imran Tahir is undoubtedly the most skillful spinner in SA, and given his superb performance in the last world cup in India and years of experience in Pakistan first class on pitches similar to Lanka, his omission is a blunder. In batting Jacques Rudolph and Neil Mckenzie would have given them the stability they miss in the absence of Kallis and Smith. Dekock , Ingram and Duplessis are ill equipped to handle spin and are likely to continue to struggle. Too often it seems players are selected because of their young age rather than skill required in a particular set of situations.

  • Harjinder on July 31, 2013, 3:51 GMT

    YES ...when a team losing countinuously ,the good thing is tthe captain can make all kind of changes through the series ,for example AB can ptomote MORRIS OR M.LAREN up the order as a hitter or AB should tell young openner DE .KOCK to bat freely because he needs full suport from CAPTAIN or MANAGEMENT,ABD must help him 100% because there is no other player in SA side to be a captain so AB should try to build a good fighting team for 2015 WC so he must consider all young agressive players ,only that thing can help Southafrica.they lack it....... As like J.P is bowling his ten overs cotta very well,thus FARHAAN should be given much more responsibility in bowling , AB DEVILLIER have to have look around to find young talent from now for WC 2015 as a responsible captain as SOURAB GANGULY did for INDIA ...that is why INDIA GOT A World cup winning team ....Good luck

  • Trevor on July 31, 2013, 2:32 GMT

    First of all, congratulations to Sri Lanka for the series win. To my team (South Africa) I have harsh words. Get your collective act together. AB, we loved you for your carefree attitude and pure talent. At this point, I see you as a selfish person, who has put his own ambitions above all else. We know that you want to be in the thick of things. However, you are neither a good captain nor a decent keeper. Most Protea followers knew that from the start. Get your batting back up to standard and go back to your excellent fielding. In the worst way, your hubris has wasted the talents of guys like Thami Tsolekile. To CSA, the aforementioned captain, and to the coach and selectors, I say what the hell are you doing? The team is a rabble. Get your collective act together. Don't make excuses about injured or 'resting' players. And, by the way, why do we play so little substantial cricket these days??? Perhaps you can see that I am not happy!

  • Sam on July 30, 2013, 22:12 GMT

    a) SOU is definitely missing injured Steyn & Smith b) Selection error in spin department. Imran Tahir & Roloef Van Der Merwe should've been included in the ODI squad c) Kallis wanted to play WC 2015. No idea what's up with him currently. The new SOU coach said there would be a talk with Kallis about his future preferances. Want to hear words from Kallis about how he's weightening his future in the game. But from the outside, it looks like he wants to give up ODIs as well & intends to concentrate only on tests. But I want him to quit T20s, play both tests & ODIs (want him in WC 2015).

  • Steve on July 30, 2013, 21:18 GMT

    Timid approach by SA batsmen landed them in this hopeless situation. This ODI series is another example of AB not firing when it matters (ODIs). With nothing to lose, I hope they come out with an aggressive mindset and play their shots from the outset. Going down 1-3 or 1-4 shouldn't be of concern.