After the Proteas handed over the World No 1 Test mace at the close of the last home summer, were dumped out at the first round of the World T20 in India, and failed to qualify for the final of an ODI Tri-Series in the Caribbean that included a home team who have not even qualified for the ICC Champions Trophy next year, it would be fair to say the national cricket team were not high on the South African public priorities list.
And then something happened. Even though an inquiry into the national team’s performance ultimately never took place, the coaching staff led by Russell Domingo and the players took it upon themselves to get the ship back on track.
A camp was held in the lead-up to the unusually scheduled mid-winter Test series against New Zealand. The extent of the debate that was held there is yet to be fully revealed, but the outcome has been significant.
Even though official Test and ODI captain AB de Villiers has not played an international match since the Caribbean disaster, the Proteas have been revived under the leadership of Faf du Plessis.
South Africa have yet to lose a match - across both Test and ODI formats - since Du Plessis starting spinning the coin eight matches ago. This run has seen the Proteas beat the Kiwis 1-0 in a Test series at home, whitewash the Aussies 5-0 in an ODI series, and are now 1-0 ahead here Down Under with two Tests remaining.
Besides De Villiers’s absence, the personnel has remained largely the same, but the attitude and body language has significantly improved. Domingo believes this has come about due to the players prioritising the importance of representing South Africa and its people once again.
"I am going to get abused for saying it again, but there's so much cricket being played and when you do things like go to a tour to West Indies, and guys are arriving a day before you play, the intensity will never be what it needs to be," Domingo said. "As a group, we've made a collective decision that our main focus and our main decision is playing for our country and giving everything when we play for our country.
"At times, with the amount of cricket you can play, it can be seen to be playing another game, and it is not [just] another game when you play for your country. That is something the team, the coaches, the management, might all have been a little bit guilty of.
"Every single time you play for your country or you are involved in a national game that space has got to be honoured and respected. Maybe that's the mental shift we have made. Maybe in the past, with the number of games being played and the number of tournaments and events - IPLs, Big Bashes, CPLs - maybe the focus wasn't where it needed to be."
Pride in the performance was certainly evident at the WACA last week where Domingo’s charges rallied with the bat, and crucially with the ball, when Dale Steyn limped off injured after the second day.
It was a performance that spoke volumes of the commitment and passion the Proteas are currently exuding, which will be significant heading into the second Test in Hobart this week.
"There is no doubt that there's nothing like confidence in cricket. Having won some games against Australia, it gives players the belief that we can beat this side. Like most things in life, if you are confident in your ability to do it, you will get it right," Domingo said.
Independent MediaIt was not so long ago that South African cricket found itself in a place where the Australians are right now: Unloved and confused.
Original source: Proteas get the ship back on track