It has been a tough, exhausting and emotional few weeks for the South African squad. They came to Australia aiming to become the first team to beat Australia in a Test series at home in 16 years. They achieved their goal with a pair of brilliant come-from-behind victories before the effort took its toll and they narrowly lost the third Test in Sydney.
Now there is a new challenge: a limited-overs series of two Twenty20 internationals and five ODIs against Australia. Johan Botha is captaining the side in the absence of Graeme Smith, who flew home to a hero's welcome during the week, and their starting line-up for the first Twenty20 at the MCG on Sunday features five men who did not take part in the Tests.
"Fresh faces at this point of the tour is very good," the coach Mickey Arthur said. "It's been a long haul for us. Our guys worked extremely hard through the Test tour, so to get some young faces in just keeps refreshing the squad, which is great. We've now closed the book on our Test tour. We see this as another tour for us."
Lonwabo Tsotsobe and Vaughn van Jaarsveld are set to make their international debuts, while Herschelle Gibbs has also returned after completing an alcohol rehabilitation programme. South Africa's semi-final exit from the World Cup in 2007 led them to focus on Tests for the next two years; now the one-day rebuilding phase has begun as they aim to discover the men who can win them the World Cup in 2011.
"There are going to be opportunities for a lot of younger players here and it's going to be interesting to see how they stand up," Arthur said. "We probably know we're not the finished article yet in one-day cricket.
"Obviously our goal in one-day cricket is to be that in two years' time when the World Cup comes about. Two years ago we started with our Test team to get them ready for this tour. We're sort of two years behind in terms of our one-day side."
Technically South Africa are the No. 2 one-day team in the world, but like Australia's No. 1 Test ranking, it is more a legacy of previous sides than a reflection of the current outfit. The loss of Charl Langeveldt and Shaun Pollock in the past year has left the squad short of experienced bowlers, and the Test fast men Makhaya Ntini, Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel will be rotated this series to keep them fresh for the return Tests in South Africa.
It all means a genuine opportunity for Australia to build some momentum against a side that has turned their summer dark and gloomy. Australia are also looking to the next World Cup and their plans do not include Matthew Hayden, who has been dropped, but Arthur believes Australia are more advanced in their one-day arrangements than South Africa.
"This is probably their chance of salvaging a little bit out of their summer," he said. "I think they're going to come out extremely hard. We're expecting a huge backlash from them during this series and they have to start as favourites. There's no doubt about that. They are a little bit further up in their rebuilding phase than we are."
Australia have given Mitchell Johnson, Michael Clarke and Brad Haddin time off from the Twenty20 games in Melbourne on Sunday and Brisbane on Tuesday as they aim to manage the workloads of their key men. It is the first time Australia will host two Twenty20s against the same opponent in a summer and Arthur said it was important not to left the shortest format expand too far at international level.
"I worry about overkill of Twenty20 cricket with international teams," he said. "There should be perhaps two Twenty20s a summer with your international teams … and then every two years you play a world championship
"That's perfect for international cricket. I worry that sometimes you might have three ODIs and a five-match Twenty20 series on a tour because of the commercial value. I think that would be wrong."