Mitchell Starc's five-wicket haul gave Australia the advantage on the second day of the first Test against South Africa in Durban as, responding to Australia's 351, South Africa were bowled out for 162 and conceded a lead of 189 runs.
While Starc picked up 5/34, AB de Villiers remained unbeaten on 71 and was the only South African batsman to build on his start.
Speaking after the day's play on Friday 2 March, de Villiers, who missed chunks of the earlier series against India because of injuries, said, “I am not sure what I did different to the other guys. I just felt really good leading into this Test. I did some really good things in the nets and I felt confident going into the Test. You don't always feel that way going into a Test match. I was very motivated to score some runs for the boys.”
While ruing the lack of partnerships, de Villiers conceded that Australia, and Starc in particular, performed creditably. “Unfortunately, not enough partnerships in the middle. That was the key to our downfall in the middle. There were no real good partnerships that absorbed the pressure enough,” he said.
De Villiers said that Starc's ability to move the ball in the air and off the pitch made it difficult for the South Africa batsmen to counter him. “My plans were pretty simple against him,” said de Villiers. “He was swinging the ball one way and bowled a couple of good deliveries. There's not much you can do about it. Swinging is one thing but when it is going off the deck, it is really difficult to cover that. So congrats to him for bowling really well.
“I just tried to hang out there and try and find a partnership with someone. I just try and read the situation and it goes like that. If we are losing wickets, we play accordingly. Sometimes it requires me to be a bit more aggressive. Other times I need to pull back and make sure not to get out. So today I felt I had to bat as long as I can. I was going to be a bit more aggressive towards the end but those last few wickets just went in no time.”
Nathan Lyon picked up three wickets as well, and de Villiers praised the off-spinner’s efforts, saying, “Lyon did a very good job from the other end. I thought we had him under pressure at times but unfortunately, we kept losing wickets and that allowed him to bowl with a bit more freedom. There were a couple of softies (soft dismissals) today but also some really good bowling. There was some really good intensity about them and they were clear about their plans. We could feel as a batting unit what they were doing out there.”
Lyon accounted for Hashim Amla, Dean Elgar and Quinton de Kock, but de Villiers didn’t see it as an indication of the team's inability to play spin well. “It just didn't show up today. I played spin well today. It just happens. There's no one with a flaw in the game when it comes to spin bowling. Obviously, the results in the last 12 (months) don't say the same thing. So it is up to each and every individual to go and work on his game,” said de Villiers.
“Lyon, at the moment, is the top wicket-taker in the world for this season and he is bowling well. He is a confident guy and I don't think we played him badly today. It is a bit of rough out there and it is quite a dry Kingsmead wicket and he has got a bit of assistance. He bowls really well. He hits his areas consistently.”
However, de Villiers felt that South Africa were still in the game and in with a chance. “All is not lost. Some guys looked really good but they just couldn't convert. There were a couple of good partnerships but we just couldn't cross that line today. If you cross that line with two batters out there, things change very quickly. Unfortunately, things didn't happen today,” he added.
“To be honest, we are not far off but the deficit looks really bad. I think the wicket is getting a little bit harder by the day and that is a bit of the problem. But in saying that it won't be easy for them to bat when they come out tomorrow. It is up to us to ensure that we have the right game plans in place and with some good intensity and aggression, we can really pull off something special. We still have that belief. There is no doubt about it. We have done it against this team before a few times. So bad position, yes, but we are not out of it.”