Cape Town – It’s a long way up the road, in terms of the
ever-congested cricket calendar … yet also so close, really.
The currently cock-a-hoop Proteas -- their spirits rightly,
barely dimmed by defeat in the Adelaide dead-rubber Test – have several other
significant tasks to fulfil before they next run into Australia at Test level,
in February 2018.
Further five-day obligations, in South Africa’s now
confident bid to climb back to No 1, are scheduled first, and in this order,
against Sri Lanka (home), New Zealand (away), England (away), Bangladesh
(home), Sri Lanka (home) and India (home).
But that next combat with the Baggy Greens is nevertheless
not much more than a year away, and importantly earmarked as the first
four-Test post-isolation series between the great rivals, as well as being on South
All bilateral series since 1992 have been curtailed to a
maximum of three encounters, so finally we get to see something much closer to
the traditional examination of endurance which major Test series are meant to
The fact that it will be here is just as significant: for
all the magnificence of their almost unthinkable feat of beating Australia away
three times in a row (twice under Graeme Smith, now Faf du Plessis), the
Proteas conspicuously still haven’t ticked the box for home triumph over the
Aussies in seven modern-era series attempts stretching back to 1993/94.
There have been two drawn series and, gallingly, five losses
in that period.
Australia are also the only nation South Africa have not yet
beaten in a series on our turf since re-admission, so there can be little doubt
that coach Russell Domingo and company will, already, quietly be training their
thoughts to changing all that in some 15 months’ time.
A poignant reminder of the last home series triumph against
the Aussies, the famous 4-0 sweep of 1969/70, came during the Adelaide
pink-ball Test -- won by seven wickets by the hosts for a strictly consolation
success – when news came through that SA participant Trevor Goddard had passed
away at 85.
For the moment, Du Plessis’s men have every right to bask in
the 2-1 away series glory, mindful that they genuinely smashed the Australians
at Perth and Hobart before the dead-rubber fixture proved a near-token bridge
The Proteas are regrouping at a pleasing rate of knots after
their much-publicised trough period, to the extent that a few “pleasant”
selection dilemmas face their brains trust for the visit of the Lankans for
three Tests over the peak festive season.
Of course the big conundrum is who to ditch in the batting
order when regular captain AB de Villiers returns as scheduled from injury for
Before the Adelaide Oval clash, opener Stephen Cook was
probably the favourite to go, but then he came back to light in commendable
fashion with a defiant personal sequence of 40 and 104 to help delay the
He averages a mere fraction under 40 after six Test matches
in total, which is a sign of considerable promise whatever people like Ian
Chappell may say about a certain quirky fallibility in his technique – let’s
not forget that Cook knows his own game backwards after some 15 or 16 years at
A gut feel is that the Proteas will wish not to tamper with
the Cook-Dean Elgar “specialist” firm at the top of the order yet, which could
leave JP Duminy, despite his major knock in the first Test at the WACA, most
vulnerable to making way for De Villiers.
Then again, his supplementary spin could come in handy at St
George’s Park from Boxing Day, so it really is a tricky issue.
Given the healthy split of match-influencing contributions
by the Proteas players Down Under – the consistent Vernon Philander must have
earned player-of the-series by a whisker – South Africa are in a good place
going forward in the five-day landscape.
On the fast bowling front, the proven, highly experienced
Morne Morkel cannot yet force his way back into the XI – what a great “next cab
off the rank” to have at a time of sudden need – whilst a tight tussle is also
developing between rookie spinners Keshav Maharaj and Tabraiz Shamsi for the
main tweaking berth.
Naturally the Proteas will not wish to focus too soon on the
next time they go into Test battle with the Australians; the ideal would be to
have forced themselves back to the top of the global pile by the time that
series comes around late next summer.
But the current group of players will also hardly be unaware
of the overdue nature of beating the Baggy Greens before the South African
Mindful of happy events of the last few weeks, their
appetites for that are only likely to increase in the interim …
*Follow our chief
writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing