TELFORD VICE, Cape Town
THE last time SA lost a test series in Australia, Graeme Smith was their captain and Thabo Mbeki was the country’s president.
That was in January 2005, when SA drew in Perth but lost in Melbourne and Sydney.
They have since ventured Down Under twice, with Smith leading them to victory both times to mark SA’s only test series wins there in all 10 attempts going back to 1910.
So the class of 2016-17 would have felt the weight of history on their shoulders when they jetted out of OR Tambo International on Sunday.
Happily seven members of the current squad and one of their coaches have been there and done that, some of them twice.
Hashim Amla, JP Duminy, Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel were part of both of those successful campaigns.
Dean Elgar, Faf du Plessis, Vernon Philander and Neil McKenzie – now SA’s batting coach – have one such triumph in the credibility bank.
Of the rest, Rilee Rossouw, Kyle Abbott, Quinton de Kock, Kagiso Rabada and Tabraiz Shamsi were among those who drilled the Aussies 5-0 in the one-day series in SA that ended on Wednesday.
Which leaves Temba Bavuma, Stephen Cook, Dane Vilas, Tabraiz Shamsi and Keshav Maharaj as the only members of the squad who do not now what it feels like to take a series off Australia, and of them only Shamsi and Maharaj are untried at test level.
“No matter what the format, if you are in form you feel confident and that is something that’s amazing to take over to Australia,” Du Plessis said before the squad left.
“To beat Australia the way we did, really convincingly, and not giving them a sniff will leave a scar on them mentally.”
All of which bodes well for a SA side showing signs of recovering from a 2015-16 season in which they lost five of eight tests.
They started to put that right in August, when they beat New Zealand 1-0.
But the true test will come in Perth, Hobart and Adelaide next month, when Du Plessis will lead SA in the absence of the injured AB de Villiers.
De Villiers’ loss will leave a big hole, but he also missed the ODI series and SA proved they could win without him.
However, the Aussies are ahead of SA in one important sense: the third and possibly deciding test will be played with a pink ball under lights at Adelaide Oval.
Australia and New Zealand played the inaugural day-night test in Adelaide in November, but SA have yet to experience the format’s latest iteration.
Coach Russell Domingo said he had kept an eye on the day-night test between Pakistan and West Indies in Dubai that reached its fourth day on Sunday.
“It definitely looked like (the new ball) was swinging quite a bit,” Domingo said.
“I don’t know if it’s going to last five days – I think they’ve got to leave some grass on the wicket because the pink ball has got a history of scuffing up, so they try and prolong the quality of the ball.
“We’ve also heard that it is very tough to bat under lights because the ball does nip around.”
So their two-day day/night game in Adelaide at the weekend, and another in Melbourne on November 19 and 20, will be more than warm-up fixtures.
“I don’t know how many pink ball tests there are going to be but I know most of the players are really excited by it,” Domingo said.
“The batsmen might not be that excited but the bowlers are licking their lips.”
Doubtless Smith and, perchance, Mbeki will observe keenly.