TELFORD VICE, Perth
THAT’S not South Africa out there on the WACA’s green turf playing Australia in the first test on Thursday.
It’s South Africa 2.0, a team determined to reinvent themselves for the future that measures up to a superb past.
“The record we had away from home was remarkable,” Faf du Plessis said on Wednesday. “It was by a long way the best by a touring team.
“That was something we were incredibly proud of. That changed.
“We went to India and we lost 4-0 there.”
In fact South Africa lost three tests in India last season and drew the other.
But it probably felt like 4-0, especially as they came home only to endure a 2-1 loss to England.
And that after starting the season ranked No. 1, an accolade earned with significant input from the by then retired Graeme Smith, Jacques Kallis and Mark Boucher.
It didn’t help that Dale Steyn and Vernon Philander spent most of 2015-16 out with injury, and that the captaincy passed from Hashim Amla to AB de Villiers in the throes of the England series.
All of which added up to South Africa spiralling to No. 7. They have since recovered to No. 5.
An indication of how far they fell is that only a 3-0 win over Australia will be good enough to lift them into fourth place.
A series loss to the Aussies, by any margin, will push South Africa down to sixth.
“We don’t want to be that team anymore,” Du Plessis said. “We’ve started a new journey as a team.
“We’ve got our own goals that we want to achieve.
“That was one of the most important things we needed to change as a team.
“For a year or so we were just trying to play in the shadow of the team we used to be.
“With a lot of those personalities missing it was difficult to do that.
“I think we’ve got a better direction as a team now, an idea of where we want to go.”
An important part of that clarity is Du Plessis himself, a stand-in for the injured De Villiers as captain but increasingly obviously the best man South Africa have for the job.
Not that Du Plessis thought he had all the answers.
“The most important thing for me as a leader is to put your ego aside and try and ask and learn as much as you can because there’s a lot of valuable information out there,” he said.
“I’ve spoken to AB. He’s enjoying life in South Africa but he misses us.
“I’m supposed to speak to Graeme (Smith) a bit later (on Wednesday) just to try get some ideas of how he did things when he was over here because he was a very successful captain.
“I’m looking forward to that conversation. It’s important. There’s a lot of valuable info in those two cricket brains.”
Smith, famously, is the only man to have led South Africa to victory in a test series in Australia – twice.
The captaincy was thrust on him at 22, and it was the making of his greatness.
Du Plessis, 32, has led many of the teams he has played for at all levels and in all formats.
“I am grateful that I have been put in a position with the test team where I am older, more mature and understand myself better as a leader better,” he said.
“I feel there are a few things that worked well and a few things haven’t worked as well. I find right now I have got the balance better.
“I understand what it takes to be a better leader and what the team requires, especially this team right now.
“It’s different now in that we are a team that all want to improve – there are no egos in our team.
“And if you have guys like that it’s very easy to captain.”
Gold. And green, of course.