Durban – The Proteas, under fresh leadership, will kickstart a brand-new era for South African cricket when they take on England in the first of four Test matches at Centurion on Boxing Day.
Up until very recently, it looked like the South Africans could go into the series without a coaching staff as a by-product of the crisis that Cricket South Africa (CSA) found itself in over late November and early December.
The arrival of Graeme Smith as Director of Cricket (DOC) came soon after the removal of Thabang Moroe as CEO, though, and the appointment of former Proteas wicketkeeper Mark Boucher as head coach has helped give the national side some much-needed stability heading into the series.
At last, the public conversation can return to the cricket as the Proteas look to snap a five-match losing streak in Test cricket that dates back to February's 2-0 loss to Sri Lanka on home soil.
There are fresh faces at a time when the Proteas desperately need change, and the South African cricketing public will be looking on with interest on Thursday.
In the spirit of the festive season, we thought this an ideal time to look ahead to five Christmas wishes that Boucher and the Proteas could do with in their efforts to start the series off on a winning note.
1. Markram making merry
At this new juncture, the Proteas need their 25-year-old opener to hit the ground running following a long injury lay-off that saw him miss the Mzansi Super League. Markram fractured his hand in a freak accident during the Proteas' tour of India this year when he punched a wooden door in Pune following a run of low scores. It is perhaps unfair to put too much pressure on one batsman, but Markram is a man who has long been identified as a massive run machine for this side and they need him to come good now. The ability has never been in doubt, but Markram needs to convert that ability into innings of match-winning substance. He spoke to Sport24 last month about how the time away from the game had made him hungrier than ever. Let's hope that hunger pays off …
2. Proteas finally benefiting from a genuine allrounder
Not since the days of Jacques Kallis have the Proteas fielded an allrounder who has consistently impacted games in Test cricket. They are set to hand Dwaine Pretorius his debut on Thursday, though, in their latest efforts. Pretorius may be a bowling allrounder, but he certainly has the talent with bat in hand and he will be placed in some pressure situations coming in at No 7. His meticulous seam also gives captain Faf du Plessis some valuable depth in the bowling department. England have a major advantage in the form of Ben Stokes, but if Pretorius can help close that gap, then it will be a worthwhile selection for the Proteas.
3. Rabada wins battle against Archer
It is only natural that the battle between Kagiso Rabada and Jofra Archer has been billed as one of the potential highlights of this series. Both are pedigreed genuine quicks with the ability to single handedly knock over opposition top orders in the shared goal of being the best in the world. It is a tantalising tussle and one which Rabada comfortably lost at the 2019 World Cup. Now, with some rest under his belt, Rabada will be looking to fire in the way we all know he can. Archer does come in as a slight fitness concern, but the Proteas know all too well that they will have to be at their best to combat his skill and raw pace.
4. South Africa needs another heroic Rassie
The highly rated Rassie van der Dussen is also in line for a Test debut on Thursday – a selection many believe is long overdue. It's been a long road to the top for the 30-year-old, but he has arrived now and has a golden opportunity. Temba Bavuma is expected to be fit for the New Year's Test at Newlands, so Van der Dussen will be under immediate pressure for his place. The World Cup showed, though, that pressure is something he thrives under. The Springboks gave South Africa one hero named Rassie at this year's World Cup in Japan in form of coach Erasmus, and if Van der Dussen continues his superb run of form in 2019, then there could be another one by the end of this series.
5. Big Vern goes out on a high
Vernon Philander has announced that he will be retiring from international cricket at the end of this series. Regardless of what happens here, he will go down as one of the greatest South African seamers of all time. It would be fitting, though, for him to leave on a high by bowling the Proteas to one more series win. Philander is looking lean, fit and incredibly motivated. Considered a genuine allrounder in most circles, wouldn't it just be a Christmas miracle if he found a way to get over the line and card a maiden Test century from No 8 before he calls it a day?