JOHANNESBURG - Finding rhythm, form and even some confidence in their four-day warm-up game against the England Lions in Worcester will be the primary objective for the Proteas from Thursday.
In recent years it’s become trendy for the South Africans to treat tour matches with a lackadaisical attitude, but results on this tour have been awful and the team need a lift in spirits and a sharpening of attitude ahead of the four-match Test series that starts in London next week.
The tour now hinges on the outcome of the Test series. South Africa’s previous two trips to England are both regarded as successful as the Test series were won on each visit, but on both occasions the Tests came at the start of the tour.
In 2008 it was as if the air was let out of the balloon after an historic first Test series triumph in England in over 40 years and the subsequent one-day series was lost, while the 2012 triumph saw the team earn the No 1 ranking, though the one-day series on that tour was drawn and the T20 series lost, but no one cared that much.
This time, the Champions Trophy was so poorly played that there is a danger some lingering doubts may spill over into the Test portion of the tour.
Throw in the likely absence of inspirational captain Faf du Plessis and concerns over who the next coach will be and South Africa certainly do appear as if they’ll be starting the series on the back foot.
Therefore, it’s crucial they make an impression at Worcester against an England A side - aka the Lions - featuring four players with Test experience.
Left-hand opener Keaton Jennings is likely to feature at Lord’s next week, while Gary Ballance, who captains the Lions, may be an outside bet to sneak into the squad for the first Test.
Sam Robson and quick bowler Liam Plunkett have also played Tests for England and in the latter’s case, a good performance against South Africa may see him roped in as cover as there still appears to be concern over the fitness of Stuart Broad, who has an injured heel.
The SA players are at various stages of readiness as far as match play is concerned.
Heino Kuhn, Aiden Markram and Temba Bavuma have been in action for the SA 'A' side, which itself had a wretched tour to England, losing one-day and four-day matches to their England counterparts.
Kuhn, 33, who made a double century against a second string Hampshire outfit and then a century against the Lions, was among those who enhanced his reputation and got picked in the Test squad as a result.
“I have matured a lot over the years as a batter and as a cricketer,” he said on Tuesday.
“I believe everything happens for a reason and maybe five years ago wasn’t my time. I’m happy to be here and I’m looking forward to the challenge. I’m going to try and approach it like I do with every game.
I know there is going to be a bit more pressure, especially if I make my debut, but it will be important to see it like any other game.
“Opening the batting everywhere is tough but it's a lot more challenging in South Africa and England. My job is to take the newness off the ball. I’ll have to try and leave as well as I can, know where my off-stump is and take it from there."
Chris Morris, Andile Phehlukwayo and Morne Morkel have been involved throughout the tour, while Hashim Amla, JP Duminy, Quinton de Kock and Kagiso Rabada had time off after the Champions Trophy.
Du Plessis stayed home as his wife Imari awaits the birth of their first child. If as seems likely, he misses the first Test starting next Thursday, Dean Elgar will captain South Africa at Lord’s.