Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent
South Africa were supposed to have an enjoyable off-season, interrupted with enough cricket to get them ready for a sensational summer but filled mostly with the free time to have some fun. Instead, it has turned into a worrisome winter which has presented more puzzles than complete pictures and now sees them on the brink of back-to-back ODI series defeats for the first time in five years, something Russell Domingo knows will be received as unacceptable even if his team is in transition.
"The South African media and the public can be harsh. They want wins and we are fully aware that we need to win this series, considering our performances in Bangladesh," Domingo said ahead of Durban's decider.
South Africa lost the ODI series in Bangladesh and underwhelmed with what seemed a lack of interest in fifty-over cricket - perhaps because they rested so may of their experienced players - which transferred into a lethargy in the longest format too. Returning home with only one of the three cups they travelled to Bangladesh to compete for was not well received. But staying at home and losing will result in even more criticism and Domingo knows it. What he also knows is that the unhappiness is caused as much by performance as it is by what the talent pool has revealed: the waters are shallower than was hoped.
After being without some of their experienced players - some of whom where on paternity leave and some of whom were injured - South Africa's depth has been exposed as lacking. No one has claimed the allrounder's spot at No. 7, no one has properly challenged an out-of-form David Miller for his place, and no one has emerged as a back-up opening batsman after Quinton de Kock fell out of form.
The first of those - the allrounder - may just need more time, as Domingo explained: "It would be a bit unfair to just discard a player after two performances. We've always prided ourselves on giving guys a real opportunity and time to try and establish themselves, and I don't think it will be any different with David Wiese."
But the last of them - the lack of a solid batsman in the top order - is a major concern. "We're missing two big players in JP [Duminy] and Faf [du Plessis] - it's important to have two or three solid batsmen in our top four, guys who score at a certain strike rate. Hashim [Amla] is one of those guys. Faf is the other guy we look to to hold the innings together. We need to have someone who is willing to graft through 40 overs. When you only have Hashim who does that consistently it becomes a problem. You've got to find the balance between being overly attacking and too defensive. Hashim and Faf have that balance, some of the younger players need to find it."
Because South Africa have not found it yet, even if South Africa claim the cup on Wednesday night, it will not make them all that comfortable ahead of the real season. "We haven't got that continuity yet, we haven't found that recipe yet," Domingo admitted. And now there is no more time to find it.
After the Kingsmead clash, South Africa will enjoy another month off. Some of the players, like Vernon Philander and de Kock, will be involved in the Africa Cup - a T20 tournament organised in the hope of making up for the loss of the Champions League T20, but which is actually a development exercise including amateur provincial sides and teams from around the continent - but most of them will have their feet up. Then they will embark on their longest ever tour of India - 72 days - which culminates in four Tests. Then they will return home to host England for another four Tests and a full limited-overs tour of five ODIs and two T20s, then they will welcome Australia for more T20s ahead of the World T20.
The preparation for that long summer was supposed to take place over these matches but South Africa did not manage to make the most of it. "It has been a bit disjointed, having three one-dayers then two Test matches rained off and a couple of T20s, now three one-dayers again. And there have been a few babies born and chopping and changing with non-availability," Domingo said. "That's the frustrating thing. It's difficult to get things going."
South Africa are notoriously slow starters which can only mean it will be difficult to do so again, but Domingo has promised that won't happen come the summer. "At least players will be prepared going into India, with good weather conditions in South Africa in September. Whether they will have their franchises to work with or we go up and work individually is still to be decided, but players will be in the swing of things by the time we get to India." As Domingo already knows, the public will not be forgiving if they aren't.
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