Mickey Arthur has implored players and officials to maintain cool heads as they attempt to rebuild from a devastating Test series defeat to Australia. The South African coach was confident his side would quickly rebound from back-to-back losses in Johannesburg and Durban, but warned that swift, radical change would serve only to destabilise a team that had been undefeated in its 10 previous series.
Within an hour of Australia closing out a 175-run victory in Kingsmead - a result that sealed South Africa's first Test series defeat since July 2006 - the hosts announced the immediate axing of Neil McKenzie and Morne Morkel, and installed Ashwell Prince as captain; a decision they would later rescind.
The flurry of activity prompted murmurings as to whether South Africa's recently-installed convenor of selectors, Mike Procter, was over-reacting to a rare set of defeats, but Arthur insisted rational thinking would guide the side through the current tempest.
"This is not a train smash," Arthur said. "Now is a time for cool heads. We have to think clearly and rationally in terms of strategy and reflect on our recent performances and how we can improve on them. It sets you back a little in the immediate term. But in the long-term, I think it might actually do us some good. This will force players to sit down, reflect and focus. We must now dig deep, and that goes for everyone, including Graeme (Smith) and myself.
"Things have been hunky-dory for ten or so series and two years. Players like Morne Morkel, Paul Harris and even Hashim Amla and Dale Steyn have never really felt what it's like to lose a Test series. As strong as any cricketer is, I think they have to know that pain of losing to be complete. It is a real driving force for many great players. The nucleus of our squad is still there, and it's a very strong one. I think we will bounce back from this in the not too distant future."
The decision to stand-down McKenzie from the third Test was perhaps not surprising, given his failure to score a Test century in nine months, and his underwhelming return of 223 runs at 24.77 in his past five Tests against Australia. Less expected was the move to drop Morkel, who, just two months prior, had formed part of a pace attack compared favourably by some pundits with the West Indian line-up of the late 90s.
Morkel struggled for consistency in Johannesburg and Durban - reflected in his series return of six wickets at 49.83 - but aged just 24, and blessed with the intimidating combination of height and pace, the right-armer is viewed as a future leader of the South African attack. Arthur was adamant Morkel remained a key part of South Africa's plans, despite his omission from the Cape Town Test.
"He will be disappointed to be out of our squad, and I hope he uses this time to reflect on where he is as a bowler, and where he wants to be," Arthur said. "He will be an integral part of this team going forward, and hopefully in the not too distant future. He just needs to get himself to where he needs to be.
"There was a lot of emotion in that dressing room after the game. The players were really hurting. The series was obviously gone, and one or two of them knew they would be left out of the next Test. When you lose, there are consequences and in this case it meant losing one or two players who have been integral to our performances in the past year or so. Graeme and I spoke to them strongly, but calmly, about the need to reflect on this result and back strongly so we don't experience something like that again. It was a firm chat, but certainly not as hard as the one we had after the Wanderers."
Arthur called upon the South Africans to duplicate the response of the Australians to their shock 2005 Ashes defeat. Ricky Ponting's squad were undefeated in 21 matches - a sequence that included a world record-equalling 16 consecutive victories - immediately after the final Test at The Oval to quash speculation they were a team on the wane.
"We have the players to still be at the top of the game, there's no doubt about it," he said. "Hopefully, this will build the character of the team. We can look at what Australia did in the Ashes in 2005 and see that, after one bad series result, just how strongly they came back in the period after that.
"We are in the same position going into Cape Town as Australia was going into Sydney. This is important for us. There is no such thing as a dead rubber for our team."