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De Villiers wants more out of his bowlers

South Africa restricted New Zealand to a 1990s standard ODI total, wobbled in their reply but took the all-important lead in a short series, but their captain AB de Villiers is still concerned about their ability to deliver a knockout punch

Firdose Moonda
Firdose Moonda
21-Oct-2014
Vernon Philander had James Neesham caught behind, New Zealand v South Africa, 1st ODI, Mount Maunganui, October 21, 2014

AB de Villiers: 'Vernon has got all the skills and the talent in the world to handle the new ball like he did today. I bowled him six overs on the trot there, which was probably one too many'  •  AFP

South Africa restricted New Zealand to a 1990s standard ODI total, wobbled in their reply but then got a firm grip on their chase and took the all-important lead in a short series, but their captain AB de Villiers is still concerned about their ability to deliver a knockout punch. De Villiers gave his bowlers "nine out of ten", docking a mark because they allowed New Zealand's last pair to add 74 runs and spend 10.3 overs at the crease.
"We got ourselves into a really strong position to finish them off, which we didn't do," de Villiers said. "To get a team nine down in 35 overs, when you've got your best bowlers with the ball in hand - I feel they will be disappointed and they will feel they have to finish that off more often than that."
After 34.4 overs, the strangle South Africa had enforced from the beginning seemed to have reached its breaking point. Even though Ryan McLaren had been expensive, he claimed the ninth wicket and after an Imran Tahir over, de Villiers brought out the big guns. Morne Morkel and Dale Steyn bowled in tandem for five overs and conceded 20 runs but could not cut through. Then Vernon Philander was brought on and his seventh over cost 18 runs, as Luke Ronchi hit his stride. De Villiers had no choice but to go back to his spinner, Tahir, and hold the line before he thought of something else.
In all of that, New Zealand managed to get over 200 and closer to 250 than de Villiers wanted. "I was little disappointed with that," he admitted. "We had them nine down and sometimes you have those partnerships but I expect my bowling unit to finish it off."
Although it was not strictly speaking a death-bowling situation, it highlighted that as an area South Africa continue to search for answers in. Philander was one of the players who put himself forward to provide that and de Villiers still believes he could, if he is used with a little more caution upfront.
"Vernon has got all the skills and the talent in the world to handle the new ball like he did today. I bowled him six overs on the trot there, which was probably one too many," de Villiers said. Philander's figures after five overs were as impressive as some of his Test returns - he had claimed two wickets for just seven runs. The sixth over cost 13 runs and then he was replaced. He only bowled one over in his late second spell but de Villiers indicated more will be expected of him there in future. "I feel he has got something to offer in his second spell. He is a very skillful bowler and I was chuffed with his performance," he said.
In that comment, de Villiers' overall feelings were summed up. Although he identified room for improvement, he was pleased with the way his team performed on an unfamiliar surface which the hosts admitted they did not adapt to as well as they should have. Brendon McCullum believed they should have been more patient and de Villiers confirmed that. "It wasn't a bad wicket but you had to graft," he said. "I don't think New Zealand were prepared to put in the hard yards upfront and maybe that was the difference."
That may well have been de Villiers simply deflecting attention off himself. New Zealand's top four scored 68 runs in 15.4 overs; South Africa's managed 97 in 24.5 overs, which leaves them fairly well-matched. The difference was what de Villiers did in the middle. He put on 139 runs with JP Duminy in a well-paced partnership which required de Villiers to rein in his usual attacking instincts.
"I was a little bit more conservative than what I would normally be because the ball wasn't coming out of the middle as per usual," he said. "I never felt in. When I feel in, I get a sniff and I can get momentum behind the bat but today was just a hard-working day."
Even on a "slow day," de Villiers still had a strike rate of greater than a run-a-ball and showed off some of his more special strokes, like the one-handed drive. Ultimately, the knowledge that the responsibility of delivering the KO was his was what drove de Villiers to see South Africa over the line. "What gets me going properly is to finish off games for the teams and to be there at the end. There's nothing more rewarding than that," he said. "When you talk about stats and milestones at the end of your career, that's the kind of thing I will look back on."

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent