The Proteas are now into the final stretch of their preparations for the World Cup, starting with the first ODI against Pakistan at St George’s Park in Port Elizabeth today.
At the beginning of the summer, coach Ottis Gibson and convenor of selectors Linda Zondi both expressed a desire to play their first-choice 15 against Sri Lanka.
The islanders are next on the menu for the Proteas, which makes this five-part meeting with tempestuous Pakistan a last-chance saloon for some players.
Some who looked set to be heading to the UK for the World Cup may well see their dreams end within the next fortnight.
It really has become that serious. That urgent. The next two weeks will be very tricky for those on the cut-line.
David Miller was in a similar place back in 2011, and just missed out. It was a bitter pill to swallow, and he took some time to get over it. Happily for Miller, he emerged as a better player, and was a distinguished member of the 2015 squad that went to the semi-finals.
Similarly, in 2015, there was a pocket of players who felt hard done by.
Players who had grafted all the yards required, and then been left out on a hunch. On a feeling that they might not be up to it.
It is those players who will be looking to be on the right side of the selectors’ gut feeling. It is a miserable thing to miss a World Cup, and the Proteas need every man in their 15 to be the very best option.
England, cast as strong favourites, already know their starting line-up, and are now trying their best to not sound too chipper about what is to come.
Of course, nothing is won on paper, so their excellent squad and potential will count for very little when it comes down to the crunch.
They were similarly favoured in 2017, for the Champions Trophy.
That is, until they had their balloon popped by the cheeky Pakistan side that had done the same to the Proteas. That is exactly why Mickey Arthur’s side are the best preparation for South Africa right now.
Hello game day! Port Elizabeth are you ready?! Inspire #ProteaFire as our boys take on Pakistan in the first @Momentum_za ODI at 13:00. Catch all the live action on SuperSport 2, SABC 3 & Radio 2000. Tickets are still available at the stadium ticket office. #SAvPAK pic.twitter.com/2Xk8Bg9u9L— Cricket South Africa (@OfficialCSA) January 19, 2019
They have scant regard for reputations and records, and thrive on being cast as the underdog.
Every ball is an occasion, and the noise they make when they are on top remains one of the game’s most joyous soundtracks.
At some stage in this series, they will expect to put the Proteas under the cosh. They will expect to do a whole lot better than they did in the Tests.
And, they may well look at South Africa’s late scramble for places as a window left ajar for them.
There is a series to win, sure. But there is a lot, lot more on the line for several players.
The first ODI at St George’s Park starts at 1pm.
Faf du Plessis (captain), Hashim Amla, Duanne Olivier, Reeza Hendricks, Imran Tahir, Heinrich Klaasen, David Miller, Dane Paterson, Andile Phehlukwayo, Dwaine Pretorius, Kagiso Rabada, Tabraiz Shamsi, Aiden Markram, Rassie van der Dussen.@whamzam17
Independent on Saturday