South Africa opener Hashim Amla says his team is not used to the hammering that it has received in the ongoing ODI series against India and the emphatic nature of defeat has taken the Proteas back to the drawing board ahead of the World Cup next year. India won a historic maiden ODI series on South African soil with a 73-run win in the fifth ODI at Port Elizabeth. The sixth and final match will be played in Centurion on Friday.
"I don't think in one-day cricket we've been in this position. Maybe in 2008 in England, when we didn't have a good one-day series but there are always positives and learning to take from it," Amla told reporters on Thursday.
"We've got a few younger guys on the team who will think, Phew, one-day cricket is tough. But, thankfully it will only get easier for them because we haven't played our best cricket. We've played decent cricket in patches but sub-par cricket from what we're used to."
Amla would like to believe that the loss against India is a blessing in disguise ahead of the World Cup in England.
"When it comes to other series or World Cup well be better prepared. Also, we have won so many series in the past back to back, we were very fortunate and none of us took it for granted. But to lose a series like this gets your feet back on the ground."
"As a one-day unit you are always searching for certain things here or there, and I'm sure this has given us that impetus. When you're playing well and someone has brilliant innings, cracks can be covered. But when you lose in this manner, whatever adjustments need to be made, you focus on it more. For me that's a very positive thing," said the opener.
Amla said there will be a lot of pride at stake for the hosts in the sixth and final ODI.
"The World Cup is not far away. India are probably playing their best team. Whatever experience we get against them we will take forward. It is (easy to motivate ourselves). At every stage in the series, you look at the positives. Now the positive is you want to end the series on a good note. The coach has a long-term vision and a few ideas up his sleeve, and he has the opportunity to play that. That will give us motivation, he added.
South Africa also used this series as an experiment for the World Cup next year and gave the likes of Ngidi, Heinrich Klaasen, and Khaya Zondo a chance.
But given the results, things haven't gone to plan.
One of the silver linings of losing a few matches like we have is you can throw out all different learning you are going to take. In this series, it has been highlighted that we haven't been able to score runs in the middle period.
"They've been bowling decently and the younger guys and everybody have learnt more about themselves playing spinners. There has never been an issue before even when we've played wrist spinners around the world," he said referring to the batsmen's struggle against Yuzvendra Chahal and Kuldeep Yadav.
The Indian team took a day off on Thursday and there was not even optional practice. South Africa trained in the morning at Supersport Park, but much of their session was washed off by heavy rain.
The performance of Chahal and Yadav have been the difference between the two teams, insisted Amla.
Their spinners have played a role as the highest wicket-takers in the series, which is not very common (in South Africa). They've bowled well, and it seemed like we took our first three games to get used to it. We've got better in the last three games.
"We've played decently well against their spinners, but they've been the difference to be honest. They've picked up wickets in the middle period and there's no better way to stop the scoring, he felt.
Kagiso Rabada was fined by ICC and given one demerit point for the send-off to Indian opener Shikhar Dhawan. The former skipper didn't comment on that aspect but said that bowling has been one of the few positives from this ODI series.
"I think Kagiso (Rabada) has bowled well, to be honest. Every game he has looked like he is going to pick up some wickets up front but it hasn't gone that way. We've had Lungi Ngidi make his debut, so he is going to take a lot of experience and learning from the series.
"270 or 280 is not an overwhelming total, but unfortunately with the batting, we haven't been able to string enough big scores together whenever we needed to chase. Although we haven't made early inroads we have managed to control the back end of the game. The last 15 overs of their innings haven't run away from us," he added.
Quinton de Kock and AB de Villiers were also injured, but the latter has returned for the last three ODIs and the T20I series.
"I've been very impressed with Aiden on the field. He is very composed and has a good idea of what he would like. As a captain, if you don't score runs then the first thing that gets attributed to you is, Oh, the captaincy has affected your batting. It certainly happened when I was captain and I've seen the same click for other guys.
"Aiden is still young in international cricket. Obviously, it was a great opportunity for him to captain and I think he's learned so much about captaining and also about batting when you are a captain in international cricket. He's only going to get better," Amla signed off.
(With PTI Inputs)