The Proteas made all kinds of unwanted history in suffering a 3-0 Test series whitewash against India.
Tuesday’s loss by an innings and 202 runs in Ranchi is the first time South Africa have suffered successive innings defeats (they lost by an innings and 137 runs in Pune last week) since 1935/36.
More pertinently, the current squad will return home battered, riddled with doubts over their abilities in overseas conditions, as well as the competitiveness of local cricket in general.
Skipper Faf du Plessis is under no illusion of the challenges South African cricket is facing.
Here are the five biggest themes to emerge from his media conference following the Ranchi drubbing.
He’s not going to quit international cricket
How I see my journey unfolding with this team is to help with the transition period. That’s something we spoke about before that wasn’t necessarily the case before. Graeme Smith was a successful captain for a very long time and then after that, it was like, ‘what now, who is going to captain the side, what’s going to happen?’ This period is to try and make that process a bit smoother, identifying the next leaders, identifying the next captains, working with them, and then when that time is right, that time will be right.
Brexit can’t come quick enough to stem the Kolpak crisis
It’s sad for South African cricket not having the option of picking some of its best players. (Off-spinner) Simon Harmer has had an unbelievable season (for Essex). It would’ve been great to say ‘He’s done well overseas, let’s bring him with us on tour’. Maybe it will be better with Brexit. Players will probably still go play in England as overseas players, but at least you can play for your country still. (Under Kolpak conditions, a player isn’t allowed to play international cricket)
At the moment, we don’t get the option of picking all of the best players. Even post-international cricketers like Hashim Amla and Morne Morkel won’t be playing domestically anymore, so you lose all of that experience. The young guys miss out on that. Playing alongside Hashim is arguably one of the greatest learning curves any rookie could experience. We need to bridge the gap.
South African bowlers aren’t adapting to Indian conditions
When we play in the subcontinent, our style of bowling is not successful. You have to adapt your style to the style that is required. Obviously, someone like Dale Steyn was effective in the subcontinent because he has a similar skill set. He is a skiddy bowler off the pitch, hits the stumps, whereas if you are missing the stumps a lot or bouncing it over the stumps, it’s not as effective here.
The Proteas desperately need to find mental toughness
India’s exceptional ruthlessness was one of the reasons why mentally we were so weak towards the end. Obviously, they did bat first every time, which made it easier but they still to put on 500, 500, 600 and the scoreboard pressure, the effect that it has on you mentally as a batting line-up, it takes a lot of energy and it takes a lot of toll. You just feel like there’s no opportunity or no moment in the game when you can hide. Your body is tired, your mind is tired and then you make mistakes.
Our next journey is to try and make sure we get a lot stronger as a cricketing team mentally. As you can see, a tour like this reveals that there is a lot of mental scars that can happen and then obviously it’s difficult to come out of the hole. We played our best match in the first match and the consistent pressure that was on us made us weaker with every Test match that we played. It tells me we are not mentally strong as a team and that some work is required in that department.
This rebuilding phase might take longer than expected
When you go through extreme hardships like this, in the hardships, you will still find guys that are up for Test cricket. You look for personalities within the team who you see in three, four, five or six years to come and then the process starts. In a perfect world you would start the process somewhere in the middle by changing one or two players and the period is shorter, but the position we find ourselves in now with a lot of experience out of the Test team, that process will probably take longer.