Johannesburg - In the build-up to the first one-day international (ODI) against India on Thursday - a game won by six wickets by the visitors, their 10th successful run chase in 11 matches - Proteas captain Faf du Plessis made mention that they already had the 2019 World Cup in mind.
Given that we now live in the era of one game, or indeed one series, at a time, Du Plessis letting slip that the official build-up to the World Cup had begun 18 months early might seem to some a case of taking their eyes off the here and now. But, as Du Plessis himself remembered, in a past in which the Proteas were practically unbeatable in ODI series until they came unstuck in official ICC tournaments, that kind of forward thinking had not been part of the team, which means they should be lauded for changing things.
That said, trailing India has suddenly brought the here and now front and centre for Sunday’s second game of the five-match series at SuperSport Park in Centurion.
As Du Plessis - whose battling 120 in Durban was eclipsed by his opposite number Virat Kohli’s 112 in the surprisingly easy chase of the third-highest total at Kingsmead - said the Proteas were outplayed by the visitors, thanks to a below-par batting effort stymied by India’s spinners.
The question is whether, with the World Cup plan in mind, to give as many people a chance to stake a claim to the final squad, the players who got it wrong in Durban will be given an opportunity to redeem themselves in Centurion, or whether it’s already time to move on to other players.
At the front of the queue marked “could have done better” are all-rounder Chris Morris and wrist spinner Imran Tahir.
While Morris’ 37 was the hosts’ second best effort on the batting front, the fact that he is returning from injury - and possibly sleepless nights after his baby was born last week - showed in his bowling, which was scatter-gun at best.
Tahir will have been embarrassed by not matching India’s wrist spinners, even though conditions weren’t as helpful to the slow bowlers by the time he started bowling.
Other pressing questions are how quickly to try Dolphins captain Khaya Zondo in that “AB de Villiers role” and whether Quinton de Kock’s slump could be best cured by sitting on the sidelines for a little while.
As for India, they will beat themselves up for years for not giving middle-order batsman Ajinkya Rahane (79 on Thursday) - whose partnership of 189 off 188 with Kohli was the foundation for the easy win - a run earlier on tour as they could be talking about trying to add the ODI series to a test series win if they had.
Former under-19 skipper Aiden Markram was surprisingly named the Proteas captain for the remainder of the ODI series after Du Plessis was ruled out due to a blow to the thumb from the first game.