SA v Australia, 3rd Test, Cape Town, 1st day March 1, 2014

South Africa left feeling exposed minus Steyn

South Africa are still looking for someone to bowl the overs Jacques Kallis used to so well for them, and the intermittent absence of Dale Steyn of late has only amplified that issue

The first law of cricket stipulates that it is an 11-a-side sport, so you'd forgive Graeme Smith for wondering why he has had to play this series with just 10. For the third time in the three-match rubber, South Africa are a man down, and for the second time it has been one of their most important men: Dale Steyn.

As South Africa saw when Steyn was off the field for significant periods of the first Test with an upset stomach, and as they have seen when he has been off the boil in the past, their attack without him is what the backdrop to Newlands would look like without Table Mountain. It lacks it's most striking feature, which only serves to heighten the pressure on the rest of the pack.

Morne Morkel has started to show he is capable of responding to that. He did it in Port Elizabeth, when he bowled the spell that Steyn said inspired the second-innings collapse and he almost did it here. After Steyn had left the field, Morkel set to work on Michael Clarke. But his encounter with the Australian captain resulted in bruises, not breakthroughs. More importantly, he lacked back-up.

On a belter of a pitch perhaps no-one could expect a different outcome from the first day, but that doesn't mean an examination of the efforts isn't warranted. In particular, an examination of the fringe elements of the attack has to take place, because it is in the area of the fourth seamer and the spin department that South Africa have lacked in this series.

In the three matches, they've tried three different people to bowl what used to be called the Jacques Kallis overs. They're a balance between overs which keep the run-rate under control while allowing the three front-liners a breather and overs which are sent down when none of them can break through. Ryan McLaren looks the likeliest to fill that role, but he has not been given an extended opportunity.

After concussion kept him out of the second Test, he may have fancied himself for a recall with Wayne Parnell being injured for this one, but South Africa decided to play what some would consider a stronger hand. Kyle Abbott is a swing bowler who has had success on the domestic circuit over the last two seasons. One of the problems was that, particularly in the morning session, there was not much swing to be found.

Similarly, there wasn't much in the way of seam movement and that frustrated Philander, who found himself under attack on his own turf. David Warner has already made known how little he thinks of Vernon Philander. He questioned the man Steyn calls the King of Newlands' ability to bowl on pitches were there is little assistance after Philander pulled out of the Adelaide Test in November 2012 with a bad back and was bowling in the nets a couple of days later. Warner showed his disdain for him again today.

While Philander was guilty of bowling too full, Warner went after him before any of the South Africans could get around to telling the opening what they thought of his accusation about their swing tactics in Port Elizabeth. The start Warner got off to is typical of his aggressive style of play, and it's impact was obvious.

Smith had to bring on spin, in the form of JP Duminy, who Shane Warne reminded the press is only a "part-time spinner", in the 10th over. It wasn't long after that that he had to spread the field and defend rather than concentrate on taking wickets. For the second half of Warner's century, he was scoring at almost a run a ball in singles because of the space he was afforded.

Donald said it became like bowling to Brian Lara because the South Africans knew any slight error in line or length would be punished and even the acceptable deliveries would be milked. They were soon on the receiving end of both. Their lengths remained too full, except for Morkel who did not offer a single pitched up ball in the spell he bowled to Clarke. Their two spinners were unable to contain and, perhaps as a result, unable to force an error.

Between them, Duminy and Elgar conceded exactly 100 runs in the 24 overs they bowled. They allowed Australia to proceed at a comfortable rate of over four runs to the over and did not threaten a touch, apart from one ball when Elgar should have had Clarke caught at slip. They showed that South Africa probably need to rethink whether they will use a specialist spinner in future. Even though the pickings are slim, someone like Simon Harmer should be kept in mind because it seems South Africa cannot go without for too much longer.

For now, their concern is responding immediately and Donald knows that can only be done with a change in mindset. "We have to come out with a brand new attitude tomorrow," he said. "We have to have a lot of attitude and discipline and skill."

If they don't, they will end up with more days like today and more reasons to question why they haven't started planning for life without Steyn sooner. This is not a suggestion Steyn, who admitted to only having "three or four Newlands Tests left", is close to the end. It is a reminder that all things end at some stage and that Steyn has not had an easy last few months. He picked up a rib injury during the India series earlier in the summer and had to take an extended break to facilitate a full recovery. He did not feature in the domestic 20-overs competition as a result.

He started this series unwell in Centurion and looks likely to end it injured in Cape Town. Sandwiched between that he produced one of it's most memorable spells in Port Elizabeth. What South Africa have to learn from all of that is they cannot continue to rely so heavily on one man alone because when they do, the biggest disservice they do is to themselves.

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent