Cape Town - The Proteas go into the second Test against England on Friday on the ropes and one solid blow away from being knocked out cold.
Already 1-0 down, defeat at Trent Bridge would ensure that they have no chance of claiming the series win that was considered crucial in their attempts to get back to the top of the pile in Test cricket.
In truth, that No 1 spot looks a long way away after Lord's, where the Proteas were sloppy with the ball and toothless with the bat.
Now, with Kagiso Rabada suspended, things look set to get even tougher.
But without the darkness there would be no light, or something like that, and the brightest light shining on the South Africans right now is the return of their captain Faf du Plessis.
While Dean Elgar gave his all at Lord's, Du Plessis's absence was felt throughout the Test.
He has become South Africa's sole leader over the past year, and when things get as bad as they were in the first Test, you need your leader around.
Elgar was keen and his commitment to the cause could never be questioned, but he could not spark the intensity that the Proteas needed in the field when England were getting away from them in the first innings.
His lack of experience was badly exposed when he turned down a review with Stuart Broad 0* - a moment that would prove incredibly costly.
Du Plessis, though, demands intensity through leading by example.
He is level-headed, has a uniquely intelligent cricketing mind and, perhaps most importantly, the captaincy brings out the best in him.
Of the 11 Tests that Du Plessis has been in charge, South Africa have won seven, drawn three and lost just one in Australia.
It is an impressive record, even if it has been boosted by a poor Sri Lankan team visiting South Africa in the summer.
Du Plessis's batting statistics also suggest that he responds to the captaincy.
He has scored 744 runs in those 11 matches at a healthy average of 57.23.
While his leadership in the field was obviously missed when the Proteas were all at sea at Lord's, South Africa were also crying out for Du Plessis 'the batsman'.
In both the first and second innings his composure under high pressure situations was needed.
Exactly who Du Plessis comes in for on Friday is an interesting conundrum that the Proteas management will have to think long and hard about.
JP Duminy is the obvious choice, but the Proteas have held on for so long waiting for him to make the No 4 position his own that they might be tempted to give him one last shot.
Keeping Duminy would most likely see Theunis de Bruyn sacrificed, and that would not be a good thing for a young player who showed some promising signs in his first-innings knock of 48 at Lord's.
A top seven of Elgar, Kuhn, Amla, Du Plessis, Bavuma, De Bruyn and De Kock immediately inspires more confidence than the top seven that included Duminy at No 4.
Graeme Smith is the best captain South African cricket has ever seen; the numbers make it almost impossible to argue that.
At 32, Du Plessis does not have enough time to come close to matching Smith in terms of statistics, but there is no doubt that right now he is the leader that the side and country to.
He has always thrived under the pressure and he relishes a challenge, and they don't get much bigger than this one.
It won't be easy, but if Du Plessis can step up and rescue the Proteas from this position of hopelessness, then he will go a long way towards solidifying his status as one of the all-time greats of South African cricket.
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