'We didn't adapt well enough' - de Villiers
With eight matches to go before the World T20, South Africa have "covered all the bases," in terms of squad make-up but are still not savvy enough in unfamiliar conditions, according to stand-in captain AB de Villiers.
South Africa squared the series against New Zealand after losing in Centurion, where, like Durban, an international had never been played in the city in August before. Unlike at Kingsmead, South Africa could not find their feet on a surface that appeared stripped of moisture and suited to spin, but surprisingly rewarded use of the short ball. South Africa's attack did not suss that out and some of their batsmen were done in by it.
"It wasn't the perfect wicket that I have played on at SuperSport Park but you need to adapt and we didn't adapt well enough," de Villiers said. "It's a little bit early to play cricket in South Africa but it's an opportunity and a challenge to test ourselves and to ask: can we think on our feet, are we smart enough as a cricket team to turn games like this around and to actually win them? We are not there yet but we will try and figure that out in the ODIs."
De Villiers did not put the lack of adjustment down to personnel problems, instead insisting South Africa have the right mix of players involved in their preparation for the World T20, which started with the tour to Bangladesh last month.
"From a players point of view, I feel we have covered the bases. We went to Bangladesh and won 2-nil there which was massive - everyone knows Bangladesh are playing great cricket at the moment and that's where we are going to play the World T20 as well in sub [continental] conditions," he said. "Some new guys got a chance like Eddie Leie, who got to bowl again and Kagiso Rabada, who was able to keep building on what he has been doing."
Rabada has earned most of the plaudits from South Africa's recent limited-overs matches for his raw pace, ruthless short ball and resourceful variations which have twice, allowed him to come back from a poor start to finish with respectable figures. In the first match, Rabada's second over cost 12 runs, two fewer than his next two overs, which included two wickets. In this game, he conceded 13 runs in his first over and 17 runs in the remaining three overs, which included three wickets.
Both these experiences have taught Rabada that there is "very little margin for error," in international cricket and "you have to be on the ball every ball." He has already identified that he "needs to work on," the way he starts.
The maturity in making that self-assessment is why Rabada is regarded as the next big thing in South African bowling. Not only is he more than good enough but he already knows where he wants to improve. "He has a bright future and he knows that but he also knows there is a lot of hard work around the corner for him," de Villiers said. "He has got the backing of the whole side, especially the senior players and the management group. We are excited to see him grow into a great player one day."
De Villiers has already taken on the role of one of Rabada's advisors and in this match, gave the bowler the freedom to crank it up in his final over - which resulted in two wickets in two balls. "AB gave me freedom in that over. He just said, 'do whatever you want.' It shows that he backs me and so does the rest of the team," Rabada said, before quickly clarifying that de Villiers does not issue instructions. "It's not like he tells me what to bowl all the time, he comes up with suggestions and most of the time they are right anyway."
Suggestions come from other quarters, too, because Rabada has accepted "everyone as a mentor because these guys have been playing for a long time," he explained. "They have competed very well. They've been the best in the world and I grew up watching them so everyone is a mentor to me."
There is less certainty over some of the other positions in South Africa's starting XI. Kyle Abbott has not looked himself in recent matches and struggled for control, David Miller has been flagging as a finisher and there has not been a lot of clarity over David Wiese's role as the main all-rounder. De Villiers, whose own new role as opener and wicketkeeper in the shortest format has not been fully explored, said all these questions form part of the "covering of the bases" which must be done ahead of playing the first-choice XI in the World T20.
"It's a very difficult balance because I love winning. To me that's more important than trying things out but sometimes you are forced to get a player in to have a look at what he is all about," de Villiers said. "Sometimes during a series you get used to seeing 11 or 12 players but you are not sure of 13, 14 and 15, Going into a World T20 where you are playing different teams on different fields. 13, 14 and 15 become so much more important."
Morne van Wyk may hope to be among the 13th, 14th or 15th player, but that seems unlikely even if Quinton de Kock remains out of the squad. De Villiers wants to return to the top of the order to get used to his new role ahead of the World T20, which may not be for too long.
"I would have liked to open the batting in the last few games but I will still get a few opportunities before the World T20 to do so," de Villiers said. "It's a fantastic spot to play at and I will definitely have the skill to adapt, whether I am going to perform... we'll need to wait and see. I am very comfortable there and looking forward to win a game or two."
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent