TELFORD VICE, Cape Town
THIS time last year South Africa were between nightmares. They had returned from India, where they were cheated out of a fair chance to win the test series by unscrupulous groundsmen egged on by rampant, misplaced nationalism, and were yet to welcome England, who came to win and did so fair and square.
And all the while the shadows of events on and off the field at the 2015 World Cup weighed down the South Africans like stones in a bag of drowning kittens.
More dark days followed in a one-day triangular tournament in the Caribbean that is remembered solely, at least in this country, for the fact that South Africa failed to reach the final.
But, not quite six months on, the light at the end of the tunnel looks less like an oncoming train and more like genuine progress with each passing victory.
There have been nine of those bright moments and only one loss in 11 matches, across all formats, since August.
South Africa, powered by a new generation of players like Temba Bavuma, a pocket rocket of grit and gumption, are looking less like insipid facsimiles of themselves and more like the side that rose to the top of the test rankings in August 2012.
Having seen how quickly fortunes can turn in either direction for even a quality team, what do the South Africans need to do to stay on the up?
“Revisiting some of the culture and the values has been a good thing,” Graeme Smith, a central figure in South Africa’s previous climb to the top, said.
“Maybe a lot of honesty has come out from those World Cup days to now and that’s allowed the players to move forward.
“And then it’s about playing and playing well. Certainly that 5-0 (one-day series win over Australia in October) and the Aussies arriving here with a weak side gave us a great platform to arrive in Australia with confidence. That’s what happened and the guys played beautifully.”
Beautifully, indeed, to win the test series in Australia 2-1 last month.
“They’re playing well, the decision-making has been good, and I think there’s been a nice honest rapport among the players,” Smith said. “You can see that in the way the guys operate.”
He saw the opposite on the Australian side of the fence.
“The Aussies, for me, have lost their way a little bit. They’re resting a lot of players, there are too many players in and out, and it’s easy just to lose what you’re all about.
“They’re lot of interesting decisions being made administratively that maybe don’t value what that team has stood for for a long time.”
Smith understands that, in a time of seismic change, cricket needs to stay alert to stay alive amid the earthquakes that are rocking the game.
“Free agency is one of the biggest challenges to world cricket today, with the T20 competitions and the opportunities not only to make money but to forge careers in other parts of the world.
“That’s why the culture of South African cricket – the honesty, the value system – needs to be really strong.
“Hopefully you’ll keep creating dreams, that people want to play for the Proteas. That’s obviously greater than the money they can earn elsewhere.”
And far rather cricket creates dreams. Nightmares are for losers.