Cape Town - One run in the match from Hashim Amla. Dale Steyn breaking down after bowling fewer than 13 overs. Complete absence of AB de Villiers. Morne Morkel left out, apparently not 100 percent rehabilitated yet from a back injury.
A year or two ago, an away Test victory over Australia under such debilitating circumstances on paper would have been near-unthinkable to Proteas enthusiasts.
Yet it’s just happened … by a commanding 177 runs at the WACA on a far-from-blue Monday for SA cricket.
In going 1-0 up in a mere three-Test series, South Africa also snapped an 18-match home streak without defeat in the format by the Baggy Greens, and forced them into a first setback in the opening Test of a summer on their own soil since 1988/89.
That is so far back that Allan Border was the skipper, Viv Richards leader of the victorious West Indies side and the still-mighty tourists commanded a scary four-pronged pace arsenal comprising Messrs Marshall, Patterson, Ambrose and Walsh.
All of this places into context the magnitude of the Proteas’ achievement in Perth, their third Test win in a row at a ground they will now regrettably bid goodbye too as major matches shift across the Swan River to a new venue in time for their next tour Down Under.
Regrouping more forcibly in both Tests and one-day internationals than many would have anticipated a few months ago, South Africa are currently playing with such confidence, spirit and professionalism under the guiding hand of caretaker captain Faf du Plessis that they do not, frankly, look a side willing or likely to surrender two Tests in a row - Hobart and Adelaide - to allow the hosts to storm back and snatch the series honours.
They also look astonishingly adhesive for a unit either deprived of so many household figures or seeing others like the trusty Amla slightly off the boil right now.
It points to the real possibility that the Proteas will challenge sooner rather than later for a return to global mastery in Tests - from fifth as things stand, and in a field arguably lacking one truly untouchable team.
Younger, or at least less experienced alternatives in the stand-up-and-be-counted department were hardly in short supply as the tourists turned this particular Test right on its head after their difficulties on day one (a situation compounded the next when Steyn’s shoulder gave way).
Their emerging gem of a pace bowler, 21-year-old Kagiso Rabada, scooped the player-of-the-match award on the strengths of his key second-innings “five-for”, where he matched illuminating skill and penetrative qualities once more with gritty endurance considering the depleted nature of the SA attack.
But this was a Test where other, often slightly more peripheral figures weighed in decisively, including the once under-fire JP Duminy and Dean Elgar with their marathon partnership and respective second-knock tons, and also the multi-pronged effort from that dynamite in a small package Temba Bavuma.
Apart from registering a highly assured half-century in the match, Bavuma produced a superlative bit of fielding that will feature in highlights packages planet-wide for some time to come, running out a threatening David Warner in the Aussie second innings and “chopping the head off the snake” in a gloriously bonus sort of fashion for the Proteas.
Not to be subdued, he then showed that his canny little part-time medium-pacers aren’t to be sniffed at - he picked up a maiden Test scalp (Josh Hazlewood) and with a bit of luck might have boasted three victims as South Africa closed in for the kill.
The exhausting all-round endeavours in this contest of wicketkeeper/batsman Quinton de Kock - productive with bat, smart with gloves in sometimes tricky conditions - and Vernon Philander similarly cannot be discounted.
As if to place a cherry on top of the agreeable confectionary, debutant left-arm spinner Keshav Maharaj bagged important first-innings wickets and then demonstrated excellent discipline (economy of 2.34 in 40 overs) to choke up one end, a la Paul Harris, in the second.
Nor can the Proteas’ slow-bowling options on this tour be deemed too bad when someone like former coach Eric Simons suggests in the aftermath – he emphasised he wasn’t wishing to pooh-pooh the exploits of the new cap - that Australia might have been cleaned up more quickly had the more mysterious and attack-minded Tabraiz Shamsi been let loose at the WACA instead, particularly on the deteriorating fifth-day strip.
The cock-a-hoop Proteas move on to considerably more temperate (often an under-statement) Tasmania for their maiden sampling of Test cricket there from Saturday, sadly without the Steyn option yet also knowing that in either of Morkel or Kyle Abbott lies a potentially very attractive replacement.
Yes, it’s Australia who have considerably more soul-searching to do in transit there …
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