Cape Town – The now-confirmed loss of their
nine-year unbeaten Test record abroad carries certain blessings for South
Africa ... it allows them to place a stronger emphasis on perking up their home
Still the top-ranked side in the world -- a
situation that won’t change even if they lose the dead-rubber fourth and final
Test against India in Delhi from Thursday for a 3-0 outcome in the host nation’s
favour -- the Proteas very soon switch to a two-series, six-game cycle of home
Ashes holders England arrive very shortly
for an extended, all-formats tour highlighted by four Tests for the Basil
D’Oliveira Trophy starting in Durban on Boxing Day, whilst New Zealand are
scheduled to play two late-winter Tests on our shores in August.
The England series is particularly
important for Hashim Amla’s troops, as triumph in it would help recreate some daylight
at the top of the pecking order rather than the likelihood of tumbling from the
But it is also an opportunity for South
Africa to earn an overdue home conquest over those foes, as England have not
suffered defeat on their safaris to these parts since the 1999/2000 season.
The last, four-Test series in 2009/10 was
shared 1-1, whilst in 2004/05, as they built a head of steam under Duncan
Fletcher’s guiding hand for their famous Ashes drought-breaker of 2005, England
pipped the Proteas 2-1 in a five-match series.
So nobody in the current SA set-up has yet
savoured home Test success over the English, even if a handful of the personnel
have been involved in the triumphant respective away series of 2008 and 2012.
When you throw in the fact that the Proteas
have also won their last two series away to their other oldest Test rivals,
Australia, yet not managed to beat them in as many as seven post-isolation series
on our own shores, it tells you that SA have – almost uniquely -- been fuelled
more by their resilience in enemy territory in getting to and staying at No 1
on the planet than anything else.
A certain home frailty has tended to stalk
them, meaning that for all their courage and aptitude “on the road”, they have
seldom been able to boast being as majestic as, say, some of the great West
Indies Test outfits of the 1980s or Aussie teams of the Mark Taylor and Steve
It is something for them to bear in mind as
they begin picking up the pieces – hopefully even as early as the Delhi
fixture, where they can recapture at least a bit of pride – for the imminent
The Indian tour was always going to be a
tough challenge, considering that the Proteas have some fairly raw players and
are undoubtedly still acclimatising gradually to the staggered retirements of
once-core, long-serving characters like Graeme Smith, Jacques Kallis and Mark
They may have been caught a bit off-guard,
too, by the controversial extent of the dustbowls created by their hosts.
The Proteas have also had to negotiate
significant portions of the Test series stripped of staple new-ball pair Dale
Steyn and Vernon Philander.
Philander looks likely to only join the
England combat after it has started, but even a start-out frontline pace trio
of a hopefully fit Steyn, Morne Morkel and Kagiso Rabada operating on
altogether seam-friendlier SA surfaces will go a long way to lifting collective
spirits automatically in the national team.
The host nation must not make the mistake
of entering the series too cocky, and that is highly unlikely now anyway given
their relative fall from grace and loss of that away milestone in India.
It is also true to say that the Proteas –
while taking into account the near-horrible conditions recently – are showing a
few flaws in their batting department, with incumbent top-seven men like Stiaan
van Zyl and wicketkeeper Dane Vilas under special scrutiny after their woes at
the crease over the first three Tests against the Indians.
Yet the nucleus of a healthy cupboard
remains: the left-handed Van Zyl, for instance, was making solid strides up until
the current tour; who is to say that he might not turn his fortunes around
quite markedly back on more familiar, preferred terrain?
Then there are several appealing,
bubbling-under batsmen to throw into the mix, like the patiently on-tour but
inactive to this juncture Temba Bavuma, plus the likes of Rilee Rossouw and
Quinton de Kock, both of whom cannot yet be discounted for superstardom in
either five-day or limited-overs international cricket.
There will need to be a thorough
post-mortem from the Indian tour, but hopefully it will not involve too much
jerking of knees ...
our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing