Tillakaratne Dilshan has admitted that his side were "20 or 25 runs" short of a winning total in the second one-day international against South Africa in East London. Sri Lanka put on 236 for 6 after a slow start - they had managed just 82 runs by the halfway stage of their innings.

"The wicket was slow but we tried to get to 250," Dilshan said. "In the first 20 overs, we did not get enough runs. They bowled and fielded really well."

South Africa removed Dilshan in the second over and Kumar Sangakkara in the 10th, forcing Sri Lanka to retreat into defensive mode. Dinesh Chandimal had to partner Upul Tharanga in building an innings from the ground up and then join forces with bigger-hitters to craft a competitive total. "He [Chandimal] is one of the fine youngsters of Sri Lankan cricket," Dilshan said. "We wanted to give him opportunity at No. 4 and we hope he can carry on the same form in the next three matches."

Although South Africa's bowlers did not extract great pace or bounce from a tame strip, they were able to strangle Sri Lanka, something captain AB de Villiers put down to their combined efforts. "We took crucial wickets halfway through the game," de Villiers said. "We picked up Sangakkara and Jayawardene early on, and those two are some of their match-winners. It was a good team effort."

Given South Africa's record in chasing moderate but tricky scores, Sri Lanka would have thought they were in with a chance throughout. But they failed to take early wickets and only made breakthroughs later on in the innings, when South Africa were on course for victory. Dilshan said the make-up of the side may have affected their ability to claim more wickets.

"Another spinner might have been handy on this wicket," Dilshan admitted. Sri Lanka could not play two specialist spinners because Ajantha Mendis was out with injury - he had a recurrence of an earlier back problem ahead of the match - forcing Dilshan to rely on himself to some degree. "I bowled nine overs, because I thought this wicket will be helpful for the spinners."

Dilshan brought himself on to attack JP Duminy, who is thought to be susceptible against spin. Duminy defied both him and Rangana Herath, and recorded a competent 66 after being moved up the order into the top four. "I prefer a bit of time when I walk out to the middle and I wasn't given that opportunity in the previous matches," Duminy said. "We are going to mix it up between myself, AB and Faf [du Plessis] for those three positions [Nos. 4, 5 and 6] in the line-up. My goal was to get us as close as possible."

With South Africa showing flexibility and innovation in their 2-0 lead, the breaking point is almost upon Sri Lanka. They will need to win the third match in Bloemfontein to stay alive in the series. "We can take a lot of positives after losing the first one-dayer badly. This one came close," Dilshan said. "If we can lift our game 10-15%, we can do well in the next three matches. Me, Sanga [Sangakkara] and Mahela [Jayawardene] are not in great form. At least two of us have to come to the party."

Sri Lanka will be boosted by the knowledge that South Africa will go into the remainder of the series somewhat unsettled at the top. Hashim Amla has been released for paternal duties after scoring a century and a half-century in the first two matches. "Hashim will be missed. Hopefully we clinch the series without him as soon as possible," de Villiers said. "But we have a lot of talent in South African cricket and I am looking forward to what the selectors come up with [as a replacement for Amla]."

Alviro Petersen is expected to be called up, to open with Graeme Smith. De Villiers indicated that the former captain will keep his position, despite his poor run of late. "Graeme is a huge factor in our team," de Villiers said. "He is not scoring 1000 runs in every game at the moment but he will be back soon."

South Africa's squad for the next match will be announced on Sunday. The selectors are also deliberating the right time to offer Jacques Kallis a rest.

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent