Cape Town - It may be a time of new beginnings and experimentation, but the Proteas will be hurting after their ODI series loss to Bangladesh.
The result has been welcomed by neutrals, with Bangladesh now clearly a side capable of trading blows with anyone in world cricket, but from a Proteas perspective there are questions to be asked.
What was more concerning than losing the final two matches of the series was the way in which they were lost.
In both games Hashim Amla won the toss and elected to bat – positive decisions that would not translate into positive batting.
In the second ODI in Mirpur and then again on Wednesday in Chittagong, the Proteas scratched around and mustered 162 all out and 168/9 (in a reduced 40-over affair), respectively. The conditions, it appeared, made for difficult batting. But - twice - the Bangladesh top-order made light work of the South African bowlers, crossing the line to win by seven wickets and then nine.
Kagiso Rabada’s hat-trick and his dream debut in the opening ODI remain the major positive for the Proteas. His future is bright and he needs to be eased into the side across all three formats - managed intelligently to ensure the longest and most successful career possible. He is just 20, and an element of patience should be exercised, but all of the right signs are there.
But at the other end of the spectrum there are concerns. Perhaps most worrying is how much the Proteas have struggled without AB de Villiers. Amla’s place in any Proteas side will never come under scrutiny – his known ability combined with his track record justify that – but he has not made runs in Bangladesh. Faf du Plessis has looked (mostly) in good touch at three while Rilee Rossouw looks to secure a spot in the middle order, but it just simply hasn’t clicked over the last two matches and nobody has taken on the responsibility that all too often falls on De Villiers’ shoulders.
Quinton de Kock continues to struggle at the top of the innings and moving him down the order might be something to think about for coach Russell Domingo and the brains trust. His shot to get out on Wednesday was particularly disappointing as he played across the line to a straight one in just the third over, getting the Proteas off to another poor start.
The other concern comes in the form of Farhaan Behardien. It appeared as though the selectors might identify the end of the World Cup as a good time to part ways with the 31-year-old, but he was given the number seven role against Bangladesh. It was an important series for Behardien, and he had an opportunity to show why he is needed in this ODI side.
He didn't bat in the first match, but when he came to the crease in the second he looked completely out of sorts at a time when the Proteas needed him most. To his credit, he came good that day - somewhat - and made his way to 36 to give the visitors a sniff of a chance. But on Wednesday he was back in the hut for 12 with five overs remaining, no batting of substance behind him and JP Duminy left stranded at the other end.
Behardien has long been labelled one of the best finishers on the domestic circuit, but he is yet to deliver on the international stage. The fact that he bowled just two overs in all three ODIs also means that punting him as an all-rounder is hard to do. And if Behardien is not going to bowl a significant number of overs then the question has to be asked: Does he offer enough to be picked as a specialist batsman?
Whoever occupies the number seven role will have to bowl at some point. JP Duminy’s off-spin, though effective in Bangladesh, will be less so in other parts of the world.
Getting the balance right seems to be the never-ending problem for the Proteas.
The shining light will be that new blood was unearthed – Rabada given a debut, Chris Morris another taste of international cricket while Kyle Abbott had an extended run in the side after his World Cup semi-final disappointment.
But the new-look Proteas side without De Villiers and Dale Steyn did look vulnerable.
The two-match Test series all of a sudden takes on a whole new look.
Steyn is back, Amla needs runs, Rabada is in line for a debut and the likes of Themba Bavuma and Stiaan van Zyl will want to put in strong, promising showings that confirm that they can make it at the highest level. But, most importantly, the Proteas need to win.