South Africa v Australia, 3rd Test, Cape Town February 28, 2014

South Africa on the precipice of history

Graeme Smith will wait until the Newlands Test is over before saying what he really thinks of David Warner's comments about how the hosts got the ball to swing in Port Elizabeth. But by then it will probably be too late.

One of three things will have happened: South Africa would have won the match, the series and Smith's men would become the first to beat Australia at home since readmission, Australia would have come back and upset the No.1 team in their own backyard or there will be a fighting draw that will leave everybody wanting a longer series. Whichever it is, the relevance of Warner's attack on South Africa will have disappeared by Wednesday.

What Smith did offer was: "He's becoming a little bit of a rent a quote. My thoughts are pretty strong. I'll probably end up saying something towards the end of the Test match." Smith agreed with the match referee's finding that Warner's remarks were "disrespectful."

That may be the real kernel of it. If there is one man in cricket who does not tolerate irreverence, it is Smith. As cricket's longest serving current Test captain, leader of the No.1-ranked side and an opening batsman who has maintained an average on or around 50 for most of his career despite playing in some of the toughest conditions, Smith has earned the right to some respect.

He thinks his team has too, which is why Warner's accusation stung bitterly. "As the coach said this just adds to the motivation but it's sad that it took the gloss off an extremely good win and a good spell of fast bowling," Smith said. "At the moment, my focus is on getting us prepared [for Newlands] and we're ready."

Ready to get their own back at Warner by ensuring they hold on to one of the chances he seems to inevitably offer them? Or ready to triumph in a Test that will make history for this South African side? Smith seemed too weary to ask.

He confirmed he had a challenging build up off the field - his young daughter had a small accident and although she is in perfectly fine, he has had a few sleepless nights - as well as on it. With no scores over 15 in the series so far and only 37 runs to his name in the two matches, Smith is, once again, under pressure to produce with the bat.

It's lead to speculation his time is up - speculation he has heard before and is used to answering by scoring in a big way - and he seems to be gearing up for another special. "I haven't contributed the way I am used to contributing," Smith admitted. "But mentally, I'm in in a good space. I let myself down a bit in Port Elizabeth. I know it's about getting through that initial period and then there will be opportunity."

Ultimately, for both Smith and South Africa, this match is about snatching a big chance and not letting go. Whether or not beating Australia at home is a massive part of the final frontier - winning a series on the subcontinent is probably the other part and with a tour to Sri Lanka this July, they will will have a chance at that before the year is out - this is as good an opportunity as they're going to get to leap over it.

South Africa have gone 14 series without being beaten and of those, they've won eight. Since August 2006, they've played 25 series and lost only one to Australia in the summer of 2008-09.

Beyond those numbers, South Africa have shown determination and resilience in the early parts of their run and started to display glimpses of ruthlessness in the latter. The first summer at home after becoming No.1, they won all five Tests they played, against New Zealand and Pakistan, and ensured none went to five days.

Before this series, they faced grueling comeback challenges and overcame them. After going 1-nil down in the UAE, they came back to level the series there and after falling eight runs short of what would have been a world-record chase of 458 against India in Johannesburg and settling for a draw, they sealed the series to send Jacques Kallis off in style.

All of those results combined have ensured they are as prepared as they can be to beat Australia at home, despite the sporadic schedule Smith keeps lamenting. "Our schedule has been a challenge already - it's been a challenge to have a nice run," he said.

That will continue to be an obstacle. After Wednesday, South Africa play no Tests for five months until July. Then they play two. Then they play no Tests for another month. Then they play one in Zimbabwe. Then they play none for another four months. Then they play three against West Indies.

The sizable spaces in the schedule means it's even more important to win against Australia now. The next time they visit these shores some of the current crop won't be around. It's not as dramatic as end of an era stuff but it's nearly there and although Smith does not want to go that far, he seems to know it.

"We've lost one series in eight years, that needs to be embraced," he said. " We have an exciting opportunity ahead us over the next five days. It would be a big feather in our caps if we can come back and win this series."

As for Warner, it seems there isn't much left to say after even his own captain voiced disapproval with his claims. "I've made clear how disappointed I was and am about his comments," Michael Clarke said. "At the appropriate time, I will catch up with Graeme and make it clear how I feel about that." And then, Warner may be the last thing on Smith's mind.

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent