In their ambitions and plans, the Proteas may well have hoped to arrive in Manchester with a good story to tell. A tale of victory, perhaps a trophy, the obligatory Lord’s triumph and, perhaps, heroes anew emerging from the squad.
By all accounts, the complete opposite has occurred. The Champions Trophy was an unmitigated disaster, sandwiched between ODI and T20 series’ against England which set the tourists back further still, and now the Test series can only end in a share of the spoils, at best.
On top of all the bones of contemplation they nibbled on during the bus ride from London to Manchester, Faf du Plessis and his men will be well aware that they could be sharing a dressing-room with coach Russell Domingo for the last time over the next week.
Domingo re-applied for his job at the 11th hour, but it is believed that he is unlikely to get another term. Incredibly, the certainty that surrounded the team less than a year ago, as they secured a third straight series triumph in Australia, has withered away dramatically.
There are top-order concerns, a middle-order going through a run-famine, a bowling attack that has seldom struck as a unit on this tour and, in the midst of all that, a coach who may well be surveying his final hurrah.
Du Plessis has long been an admirer of Domingo and his management style. The Test captain challenged Domingo to be more demonstrative during "that" bosberaad last August, and there was an upward curve in intensity and, subsequently, results since then.
Far from taking it the wrong way, Domingo took the challenge as just that - until the Cricket South Africa bombshell about Domingo’s job. Though it was quickly explained away as procedure, the timing smacked of disregard.
Du Plessis and part-time international AB de Villiers, threw their weight behind Domingo, but the die had been cast. Nothing has been the same since.
In fact, in the aftermath of the Champions Trophy exit to India at The Oval, the Proteas coach cut a rather fed-up figure, one bereft of answers about the future and where the team might go next. At that point, he looked gatvol.
Off the field, there were personal circumstances that have cast a harrowing torch of perspective on the bigger picture, Domingo having to deal with death of his mother before the Lord's Test.
Results on the field have fluctuated violently. No two performances have mirrored each other; a lashing at Lord’s, followed by a triumph at Trent Bridge, and then another limp London offering at The Oval.
The series as a whole has produced flickers of brilliance but most of those flickers have come from the home sheds.
Now, as a long tour reaches its final destination - and, perhaps, Domingo’s last post - it is a time for men to stand up and give a fitting send-off, if this is truly the end for Russell Domingo. The Port Elizabeth-born Domingo has been around the side since June 2011. He took over full control from Gary Kirsten in August 2013.
Come the end of this month, when Domingo is back home, the winds of change may well have swept through the Proteas’ dressing-room. De Villiers has explained that he will make a firm decision on the rest of his career based on the next coach.
August, then, is a massive month for South African cricket, whichever way you look at it. Domingo and his side dare not look beyond the next week in Manchester, though.
They must show up, if only to recover some of the considerable pride dented on their 10-week trek across the UK.
At the end of August, Domingo will celebrate his 43rd birthday. He would be forgiven for feeling closer to 53, after the grey hairs that the Proteas’ portfolio has given him.
Naturally, his team would like nothing more than to provide an early birthday present - and one last victory song.