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'We are better than Australia' - de Villiers

AB de Villiers does not think the 4-1 series loss in Australia makes them a lesser side or any less likely to win the World Cup. In fact, quite the opposite

Firdose Moonda
Firdose Moonda
AB de Villiers cuts behind point, New Zealand v South Africa, 3rd ODI, Hamilton, October 27, 2014

Despite criticising their batting, AB de Villiers said South Africa would be "the team to beat at the World Cup"  •  Getty Images

Following South Africa's 1-4 series defeat in Australia, AB de Villiers was understandably unhappy with several areas of their game. He criticised their batting, fielding, the number of extras they conceded, the way they approached the last 10 overs of innings and their lack of ruthlessness, but he did not think any of that makes them a lesser side or any less likely to win the World Cup. In fact, quite the opposite.
"There is absolutely no doubt in [my] mind we are the better team," de Villiers said on the squad's arrival back in South Africa. "We didn't play the big moments as well as we wanted to but I really believe we could have beaten them 4-1 on another day but it didn't happen that way. They will be one of the favourites for the World Cup but I still believe we are better team. We will be the team to beat at the World Cup."
Confounding as that confidence may sound in light of their recent performances, de Villiers is sticking by it because he believes the lessons South Africa will take from their visits to New Zealand and Australia will stand them in good stead for the World Cup. "If you don't learn, especially if you are not playing well, then you are not going to move forward as a team," he explained.
"We learnt a lot of little things - like flying from Perth to Canberra and understanding there is a time difference and jetlag comes into play even though you are on tour. And different wickets. There is no set of rules that you've got to play in a certain way in Australia. Russell [Domingo] and I made a lot of notes. We are definitely more prepared than what we would have been if we didn't go on the tour."
South Africa's World Cup group stage games begin in New Zealand, move to Australia and then head back to New Zealand. So time zones and changing conditions will all come into play again and Russell Domingo thinks South Africa are now prepared for it. "Going to play these series just before a World Cup is a big benefit for us. A lot of our players hadn't played under those conditions, to those crowds and at those venues," he said.
Major tournament anxiety is unavoidable, especially for South Africa, but Domingo does not think it will be as big a bogey this time as it has been in the past  "We've performed under pressure in all formats in the last year or two," he said. "From batting out a day in Colombo, beating Australia in a final in Zimbabwe, to beating New Zealand in New Zealand - mentally the team is in a very good space. Skill and execution of skill is more the concern than the mental capacity of the side."
South Africa seldom lack talent but occasionally they struggle for it to come together as well as it should. The last two weeks in Australia are testament to that but neither de Villiers nor Domingo is overly concerned. "The scoreline of 4-1 was probably not a true reflection of the closeness of the series," Domingo said. "For a long periods of time we competed and had opportunities to win more than one game."
De Villiers also stressed that South Africa "competed in all five games," and were never blown away. "It was just those crucial times when we need guys to step up for the team with bat and ball. Not a lot of guys did that in this series and that's probably why we didn't come out as winners," de Villiers said. "But we did compete in all five games. We didn't have any bail-out games, where we don't compete at all, and that was pleasing."
Both coach and captain are eyeing only small adjustments, for which they believe they have both the time and the opportunity to make. "We all get tired of talking after a while. We're going to have to step up as a team and do the basics better. We've got a great opportunity now leading up to the World Cup," de Villiers said.
South Africa's next assignment is against West Indies at home and they will not play any ODIs until after the World Cup squad is announced. For Domingo that will be the ideal finishing touch. "We can have the players playing together as a unit without the pressure of playing for World Cup spots. It will be great to get into a series where players don't have that kind of pressure," he said. Then, South Africa will head to the tournament as what de Villiers called "the team to beat."

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent