South Africa v Australia, 3rd Test, Cape Town, 4th day March 4, 2014

We still have hope - Domingo

It was only 16 months ago but Russell Domingo seemed a lot younger in November 2012. His voice had a little more song in it and he smiled a bit more when he was put up to address the media on the fourth day of the second Test between South Africa and Australia.

Then, South Africa were 77 for 4 after being set a target of 430 and Domingo admitted they were down and out. "We know that 350 on the last day with four wickets down is probably out of the window," he said then. He was right but he also wasn't expecting South Africa to bat out 98 overs like they did.

That they did is why today, despite tired eyes, with a tone that was less melodious and more of a frown, Domingo brought a message that was like a dark cloud. It had a silver lining. "I think there is still hope," he said. "We're hoping AB can score the slowest 40 in the history of the game. We've got Faf who has done it before. And JP is off the back of a 100. There's still hope."

It's probably a slimmer hope now than it was then because back in November 2012, Australia were a bowler down after James Pattinson had suffered a side strain. Now, he is fit and they are only half a bowler short because Ryan Harris may need to protect his knee. Then, the track was flat and there was no reverse swing. Now, it's a little up and down and the movement is there to be exploited. But then, South Africa did not know whether they could bat out a day. Now, they do.

"We've managed to get ourselves out of holes like this before," Domingo said. Twice, they have done it before. South Africa drew both in Adelaide and at the Wanderers against India. They have proved bowling them out is not always that easy and with enough resolve, they can put up a stubborn resistance.

What could end up being the major difference is that then, South Africa were not facing a future without their leader. Now they are. It may also be why Domingo looks like he has aged more than he would have liked. "It's an emotional space," he said of the South African change-room now, given Graeme Smith's imminent retirement. "Everybody in that team started their career with Graeme as the captain."

Smith told his team-mates and Domingo the news after the third day's play. It came unexpectedly but firmly. "When a player of that decision makes like that, he doesn't do it overnight. He would have thought about it. You cant change a person's mind once he has made his decision," Domingo said. "I might have heard a rumour that it was due to happen soon but I didn't ask about it."

Whether there is more to Smith's timing than meets the eye may only be uncovered in a few days' time. For now, Domingo and Smith have to concentrate on salvaging the series. Domingo can't look too far ahead but thinks he has the players who can make up for Smith's absence and step up when needed.

"When guys like Allan Donald and Shaun Pollock retired, people thought who is going to come next and up popped Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel and Vernon Philander," he said. "We've always got some depth and some good players. It's time for Hashim Amla, Dale, Morne, Vernon and AB de Villiers to become icon players. They learnt their trade under the Smiths and Kallis and now they need to impart knowledge."

The only batsman from that list who can still do that in this match is de Villiers, who incidentally was also batting overnight in Adelaide. He has the nightwatchman at one end and du Plessis still to come. With those resources in the bank, Domingo sees the current situation as 70-30 in Australia's favour.

If South Africa can bat to lunch with only another wicket lost, he thinks that will shift the balance to 60-40. If they get to tea and still have five men in the hut, that equation, according to Domingo, will become 50-50. It's a number's game for Domingo who admitted, somewhat wearily, they can only hope to save the match and and not break new ground.

"We'll always want to win but we'll take a draw right now and run very quickly," he said. "I wouldn't have taken a draw at the start of the series because it was an opportunity to make history."

Having never won a series against Australia at home since readmission, now it is just an opportunity for South Africa not to repeat history.

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent