Cape Town - South Africa go to Durban for a decisive one-day international against New Zealand on Wednesday (12:30 start) blanketed by fragility.
That is due to a galling eight-wicket thumping with 33 balls to spare at the hands of the Martin Guptill-inspired Black Caps, who levelled the three-match series 1-1 before a full house at Potchefstroom on Sunday.
Not only was this a result that scuppered their unbeaten record at Senwes Park – six wins, plus a tie against Australia from seven prior completed ODIs there - but it was probably the Proteas’ worst home humiliation in a single game since 2008/09.
In that season, the Aussies romped to victory by 141 runs in the first of five ODIs at Kingsmead (SA were rolled for an unflattering 145 in reply to 286 for seven) although Graeme Smith’s charges then roared back to win the next three games in a row and clinch the series early.
All it will take to secure this particular series is a dramatically improved showing in the decider, and perhaps it is a comfort that AB de Villiers’s side look more inconsistent than they do rank incompetent: a cracking, turnaround performance in Durban cannot be ruled out.
That said, the visitors, who are doing battle in this late-winter challenge with a much more weakened arsenal than the Proteas are fielding, will be the ones with tails up going into the final clash, and aiming for a second successive 2-1 bilateral outcome on South African soil - they last got that result in a 2012/13 series.
The Proteas are under additional pressure to get it right on Wednesday because failure to do so will also mean a second series surrender in the space of a few weeks; they blew it 2-1 in Bangladesh after a roaring start in Dhaka in mid-July.
Losing two bilateral series in a row has not happened to South Africa since 2009/10, when they were beaten at home by England and then away by India.
Sunday only served to confirm that the ODI landscape is the one most troublesome to South Africa right now; they look just that bit more threatening and closer to regrouping in Twenty20 as things stand, and remain clear at the top of the Test rankings.
But as many questions as answers continue to plague their journey through the 50-overs environment -- a situation perhaps only fogged further when Farhaan Behardien, long considered a tenuous presence in the team, was easily the most sensible and composed batsman as they could only muster a grossly insufficient 204 all out after taking first strike on a slow surface that was a bit challenging but no minefield.
Along the way to his career-best 70 off 87 deliveries, the 31-year-old found plucky lower-order assistance from Vernon Philander, arguably still under-valued as an all-rounder and another name you might now wish to throw into the hat for that vexing, unstable No 7 berth in the side (although he operated one slot lower on Sunday).
The Proteas’ general batting jitters are not helped by David Miller regressing a little in his quest to be offered more responsibility higher up and not be pigeon-holed as a late-innings hitter: he has only put together a combined tally of 72 runs from his last four knocks - average 18 - stationed at No 5.
Not that the front end of the order is looking too smart, either; you just get a sense that there is an overly obsessive need for urgency at the expense of intelligence sometimes.
That was demonstrated when, with two wickets already down for not much, captain De Villiers survived being run out by a fair distance after taking a daft single while barely into double figures - he is just not the sort of wicket you can afford to fritter away carelessly.
Similarly, Rilee Rossouw’s stocks are rising gradually as a forceful hitter, but he needs to guard more against offering front-of-wicket catching opportunities too soon after getting himself quite nicely established.
The bowling effort in attempted defence of a slim score wasn’t too bad under the circumstances, with spinners Aaron Phangiso and Imran Tahir keeping a competent lid on things, although an educative stat was the Proteas collectively giving up 10 wides (four by Dale Steyn) to the mere one of New Zealand.
Add in the fact that South Africa continue to drop catches, and a common thread presents itself: basic efficiencies are just not being respected enough by a side that once prided itself on getting these right most of the time ...
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