South Africa depart on a long journey chasing trophies
One of the wonderful things about cricket being a summer sport is that it's always summer somewhere; so if you time it right, you can have an endless season of sun. Like South Africa are about to.
This is a significant time for South Africa to be touring England. ODI captain AB de Villiers described it as a summer that provides, "an opportunity at our doorstep" to do some great things. There are two ICC trophies up for grabs - the Champions Trophy and Women's World Cup - and a four-Test series which, if South Africa win, will be their third successive series victory in England. The South Africa A team will also be in the UK at the same time, to ensure there are enough reserves on hand. So in a way, it's as though all of South African cricket is relocating for the next three months, a period which could spell the end of an era.
South Africa's coach Russell Domingo and the rest of the management team are contracted only until the end of this tour. Domingo is free to reapply for his job but has given no indication of whether he will. Instead, he has asked for questions to be directed at CSA. Perhaps he wants the results to do the talking for him, particularly results in the first three weeks of the tour.
It's unimaginable to think that Domingo will be let go if he presides over a victorious Champions Trophy campaign and indicates he wants to continue as coach. Sure, stranger things have happened in South Africa - Ray Jennings was not retained after winning the 2014 Under-19 World Cup - but Domingo has led this team out of the quagmire and he is confident their success will continue.
"We can take comfort that in a lot of our bilateral series recently, we've won in must-win games," Domingo said, citing the deciders in ODI series against India in 2015, England in 2016, and New Zealand in 2017 as examples.
"I am going there confident and at ease, knowing the team has been under pressure situations in the last year-and-a-half and have come through them. We don't need to do anything too differently."
His captain is equally sure. AB de Villiers always talks South Africa up as champions before major tournaments and this time was no different. He recognised their challenge of being the only non-subcontinent team in their group and is certain they will overcome both that and their knockout hoodoo.
"I rate our chances in our group. If we play really good cricket, I honestly believe no-one is going to stop us in our group," he said. "We've been playing some good cricket over the last few years. From the 2015 World Cup with that big disappointment, we really raised the bar. We picked ourselves up and showed some really good results."
South Africa are ranked No.1 in the world, have won their last four series, and are traveling with a squad that de Villiers believes "covers all bases". They have a solid top six, in which the only concern was Hashim Amla, who surged back to form in the IPL. Amla scored two centuries and, at the time of leaving the tournament, was in fourth position on the run charts, with 420 runs from 10 matches at 62.28. He was the highest placed South African.
De Villiers was next but much lower down, in 40th place, and his 216 runs from nine matches at 30.85 could be a red flag. While Domingo joked that de Villiers had "one of his more average IPLs," the man himself was not too concerned about where he is at.
"I'm not worried about my form. I hope you're not worried. I had a few decent knocks. It was split up nicely across the tournament. I started off really well with a good knock, and then four or five games later had a decent knock again. I didn't score a hundred or anything like that but I always felt in good form. I am not too worried. I am hitting the ball as well as ever. I think there are some good scores to come."
While Quinton de Kock (finger injury) and JP Duminy (personal reasons) sat out the IPL, Faf du Plessis' only batted once in two games and David Miller's top score was 30 in five matches. But Domingo had no complaints.
"Those guys who needed a bit of rest, rested; those who needed to score some runs, scored runs; and those who didn't, go to England with a bit of a point to prove."
In the bowling department, South Africa have packed four allrounders into the squad to accompany the two frontline quicks, Morne Morkel and Kagiso Rabada, and they have two specialist spinners for variety.
"Our biggest strength is the balance that we have in our squad. We have really good choices when it comes to combinations," de Villiers said. "We have an amazing batting line-up who have played together for quite a while now. We have the wrist spinner, and a finger spinner who can really control the game and also bat at the back end. With our seamers, we have a bit of everything - bowlers who can just land it in the same area all day long, and we have all out pace."
South Africa seem as strong as they would want to be but that has never been strong enough when it mattered most, and maybe it doesn't need to be right now. The 2019 World Cup is the long-term goal, for de Villiers, du Plessis and other senior players, so they may not have as much invested in this event as they have in the past. That may serve them better than they may expect.
The Champions Trophy will be followed by three T20Is, and then four Tests at the end of the 12-week tour. The team management has already identified the need to keep the squad, especially those playing all formats, as fresh as possible for a crucial Test series.
Five years ago, when they travelled to England for Tests, South Africa were an outfit that had climbed the ladder and were ready to claim top spot. Under Graeme Smith, they took the mace off England. This time, they are an outfit that has also climbed, albeit in a much shorter period, from No. 7 to No. 2. But even a 4-0 win in the Tests won't be enough to take South Africa to No. 1. It will, however, allow them to cut the gap, which is 13 points, and put themselves in a position to chase the mace in the home summer, in series against Bangladesh, India and Australia.
Rankings aside, there is significance attached to Test series in England - a special aura of being in the midst of summer when it is actually your winter, and a special trip when there are so many accolades to win. South Africa have set off, the country awaits the spoils.
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent