Seven months ago, South Africa were "not keen" to play a day-night Test match, primarily because they had never done it before. Five months ago, they agreed to the fixture, after being assured of adequate preparation time. Now, on the eve of a match which has been dominated by discussion over their stand-in captain Faf du Plessis' ball tampering offence, they are - in coach Russell Domingo's words - "very excited" about featuring in only the third fixture of its kind. What changed?
"When they said they changed the seam, made it black and it would have better visibility, things started changing," du Plessis said. "We just wanted to be part of something and not miss out and see what's its all about."
Cricket South Africa made it clear that keenness and not cash changed the players minds, and confirmed that Cricket Australia did not offer any financial incentive for their participation in this match. Instead, the hosts promised South Africa two warm-up matches, one pre-series, one mid-series under lights, and agreed to use the pink ball for a winter series between South Africa A and Australia A. Six of the current Test squad members were part of that series.
South Africa A lost both unofficial Tests but gained reassuring experience. At the time, Vernon Philander still had some doubt about the ball's softness but his report was better than last year's, when even Australian players believed the ball needed improvement.
It was those concerns that initially dissuaded South Africa. In chats before the World T20, when Australia visited South Africa for three T20s, and at the IPL, South African players "spoke to the Australian players and read the comments around the pink ball". "There were a lot of question marks around it and at the time, it didn't sound like it was ready for it to be perfect," du Plessis said.
Since then, the ball has undergone changes and players are more comfortable with it. Steven Smith confirmed it doesn't swing as much because of the extra layer of lacquer, but it still is most effective under lights: "If you look at pink-ball statistics, most wickets have been lost in the third session of play. That is the pattern that has happened."
For Faf du Plessis that is not a major issue because "two-thirds of the game happens during the day". With the sun setting at around 8pm, only some part of the final session takes place in complete darkness. "When you say day-night, you think everything is happening at night but most of it is happening in the day. It's only an hour of night game. It's actually a short time," du Plessis said.
But a significant part of the second session will be played in the twilight period when it is said to be most difficult to bat. South Africa have tried to downplay the twilight period and are taking inspiration from Quinton de Kock, who scored 122 in the first warm-up and felt so comfortable that he didn't play the second.
"The beauty of Quinton de Kock and the way he plays is the simplicity he gave with that answer about the pink ball. Its just another ball. Someone asked him about batting at dusk, he said it was the easiest time to bat. So that's the sort of attitude we are going into it with," Russell Domingo, South Africa's coach, said. "It's just another cricket ball. It might be a different colour. It's just another cricket pitch. They have all played under lights before. We're not too concerned whether its pink, white or red at the moment. We just want to play the Test match."
The ball aside, South Africa are also looking forward to the match because it presents them with the opportunity to make history. After achieving a third successive Test series win in Australia, they have the opportunity to become the only team to whitewash Australia 3-0 at home. Several South African players have called a 3-nil scoreline, their "mission".
Despite the attention on the ball-tampering claims, South Africa still consider themselves to have the advantage because of the state of the Australian team. Their XI has five changes from the Hobart Test, including three debutants, and du Plessis did not hide the satisfaction he is getting from seeing Australia in strife.
"When you see all the changes they are making now, that brings pleasure to me as a captain to see that what we are doing is creating something in the Australian team that they feel they need to change. If I was sitting in that team, a lot of changes means you are trying to change everything in your team. I'd rather be sitting on my side," du Plessis said.
His coach was more cautious and warned that Australia won't go down without a fight, especially in a match this important. "I don't think there has ever been an Australian team that has just given up or been easy to beat," Domingo said. "We know they will be desperate to do well and get their cricket going again."