Morne Morkel will look to retire from international cricket on a winning wicket against AUS. Photo: Anesh Debiky/BackpagePix

DURBAN – The Proteas know the importance of starting a series well, especially against Australia on home soil.

Since re-admission, they have been unable to claim a series scalp against the Aussies, often winning dead rubbers to save face.

Incredibly, they have settled on a recipe for success away from home, with three consecutive trips to the Antipodean region ending in joy.

How they would love to translate that travelling familiarity to some comforts closer to home.

Their fans have never seen South Africa defeat an Australian Test side, but they will start their four-match series at Kingsmead this week with hope renewed once more. Australia have arrived and already settled into their work.

By all accounts, their batsmen and bowlers enjoyed a very good workout in Benoni against a young, but game South Africa ‘A’ side.

They made runs, took wickets, worked up a sweat - and made enough time to steal off with a handy win too.

The South Africans would have already been clear on what to expect from the likes of Pat Cummins, Josh Hazlewood and the rest of the pace pack, but that message was emphasised by their display in Benoni.

They cut mean figures when they must, and the Proteas top-order know that they simply cannot afford a slow start at Kingsmead.

Traditionally, the wicket has dried up and taken turn as red-ball matches wear on, whilst also encouraging reverse-swing.

Even with the fickle Durban weather, things tend to happen in a hurry at Kingsmead, so the South Africans have to hit the ground running.

The battle for early supremacy may well be decisive, because both sides have shown that their momentum is very hard to turn around.

A four-match series does allow for a more demanding examination of a team’s skills, of course, and whoever triumphs by the time the Wanderers rolls around would have earned it. Too often, series between South Africa and Australia have not been afforded the time or the pride of place that the talent on display deserves.

They are shunted in at awkward times of the year, to accommodate conflicting southern-hemisphere schedules that have demanding audiences. India may have been in South Africa over the choice part of the year, but that riveting series of three Tests left many observers wanting more. 

There is no danger of that occurring against Australia. There is much cricket to be played over the next five weeks, and either Faf du Plessis or Steve Smith would have earned the trophy by the time April comes around.

Both men will know, of course, that four matches can become a very long time if you are on the receiving end of defeats. For Australia, the series presents a chance to avenge their 2016 reverse on home soil.

For South Africa, this is yet another chance to set the record straight, and break an uncomfortable duck on their Test analysis. With the modern way of the game, many in the team will know that this may be a last chance to defeat Australia at home, before their international careers come to an end.

Thus, the stage is terrifically set for the next month and a bit. We may no longer get to see these two, eternal foes battle it out at the peak of summer, but a four-match scrap, between two very well-matched heavyweights, is almost as good as Christmas in March.

It ought to be fast, furious and even fiery at times. And both teams wouldn’t want it any other way. India was a tantalising appetiser, but Australia is the main course of the South African 2017-18 season.

Bon appetit.

The Mercury

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