Johannesburg - A year ago, the Proteas narrowly won a rain-affected two-Test series against New Zealand that would lead to a glorious run.
The victory against the Black Caps was followed by an unprecedented 5-0 one-day international (ODI) series whitewash of Australia at home; a 2-1 Test series win in Australia; whitewashes of 3-0 and 5-0 against Sri Lanka at home and a clean sweep in all formats against New Zealand in their back yard.
Yet it took just a month in England to fritter all that goodwill away with a 2-1 ODI series defeat to the Poms, a group stages exit from the ICC Champions Trophy and another 2-1 defeat at the hands of the English in the T20 series.
No fault of players
Former Proteas left-arm spinner Robin Peterson is as baffled as anyone about the reason for the swift change in fortunes for Russell Domingo’s team, but he has a theory.
“Before the tour, the team seemed a little disjointed,” he said. “Some of the guys were in the IPL, some were at home and some were playing County Cricket. In the past, there’s always been a build-up.
“But it’s no fault of the players and management...it’s just the way the schedule’s gone".
Adding to the uncertainty going into the four-Test series – which begins at Lord’s on Thursday – were a few other disruptions.
Head coach Domingo had to return home during the T20 series to be with his mother, who was involved in an accident; fast bowler Vernon Philander is in a race against time to recover from an ankle injury and captain Faf du Plessis is in his own race for availability after becoming a father on Thursday.
About the Test series, Peterson said the results of the past month would definitely affect the Proteas: “You’d be a fool to think it wouldn’t affect them because the majority of the team was part of the Champions Trophy and they lost the ODIs and the T20 series.
“But I must be honest that sometimes, with being on tour, a change of format can reinvigorate the players. There are also some new faces in the team".
The doubts surrounding Du Plessis’ involvement in the first Test – he’ll only return to London if he is satisfied his wife and child are settled after a difficult birth – mean that opener Dean Elgar, who will get a new partner in debutant Heino Kuhn, is on standby for the captaincy.
Should Du Plessis not make it, it’ll bring Theunis de Bruyn, a veteran of one Test, into play at probably number five or six in the batting line-up, meaning more disruptions to the team that swept all before it in Tests in the past year.
“They haven’t had consistency, so it’s difficult to say what a new-look team is going to produce,” said Peterson.