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Darkest before the dawn

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This was never going to be the miracle the Proteas had hoped for on Sunday evening

Wanderers, Johannesburg

Fourth Test, Day 4

England 400 and 248

South Africa 183 and 274

RESULT: England won by 191 runs

SERIES: England win series 3-1

This was never going to be the miracle the Proteas had hoped for on Sunday evening.

Yesterday was bright and sunny but South African cricket and its primary asset remain in the dark.

It’s going to take a lot of hard work to travel toward the light once more, but at least, based on what head coach Mark Boucher said on Sunday evening, there is a willingness on his and the players’ part to put in that hard work.

Having seemed to toss in the towel on Saturday when this match really got away from them, yesterday they at least showed some fighting spirit.

It is one good place to start the rebuild.

Openers Dean Elgar and Pieter Malan saw off the new ball – the most difficult period to bat — but then Malan gave his innings away the first ball after morning drinks and Elgar was undone by a brute of a delivery from the unstoppable Ben Stokes.

It’s been five years and South Africa have not found a way to get on top of the muscular all-rounder.

Stokes bowled two spells yesterday – one of nine overs around the lunch break in which he picked up Elgar’s wicket, and another of seven overs around tea in which he bowled Faf du Plessis with a delivery that deviated off a piece of debris and kept low.

Du Plessis, whose captaincy on Saturday – particularly during that match-defining 10th wicket partnership between Stuart Broad and Mark Wood – was arguably the worst of his career, did show greater fortitude with the bat and with his mouth.

There was a fiery exchange between the South African skipper and a few of the English players who did not take kindly to him either picking up the ball or tapping it back to them as they were obviously trying to keep it dry and get some reverse swing.

Both Broad and Sam Curran threw the ball into pitch when returning it to the wicket-keeper in an attempt to scuff it, with Curran hitting Du Plessis on the leg with one throw igniting the verbal exchange that required the intervention of the umpires.

A few overs later, Du Plessis was bowled.

He and Rassie van der Dussen had added 99 runs for the third wicket, with Van der Dussen producing some sparkling strokeplay, especially against Joe Root and Joe Denley’s spin.

Van der Dussen has been one of the few standout performers for South Africa in this series. He’s made three half-centuries and been asked to move from a position in the middle order – where South Africa had been seeking solidity – to number three once Zubayr Hamza’s problems against pace were highlighted.

He is deserving of a longer stint in the Test team – something you cannot say about too many of the other batsmen.

In fact, it is the batting where Boucher and Cricket South Africa need to start with the rebuild for whatever Proteas team will tackle the next assignment in the West Indies in July.

The 284 scored in the first innings at Centurion last month – and it really feels like a long, long time ago – was the highest total South Africa made in this series. No team will win Test matches when the batting is that bad.

South Africa have won just one of their last nine Test matches. Tactically and mentally they are a team in need of upliftment.

It’ll take patience and honesty.