South Africa are in a tough predicament. After winning series against India and Bangladesh at home and levelling the series in New Zealand, the Proteas under Dean Elgar's captaincy lost 1-2 to England and were thoroughly outclassed to submit the ongoing series to Australia.
After being skittled out for 189 all out in the first innings of the Boxing Day Test at the MCG, the visitors were pummeled into submission by David Warner's brilliant 200 and Alex Carey's 111 to concede a lead of 386 runs. It seemed insurmountable as they were dispatched for 204 in their second innings to lose by an innings and 182 runs.
Elgar had nothing but disappointment for the structure of their domestic and international scheduled which failed to produce a match-winning team. Adding salt to the injury, it was South Africa's first series defeat in Australia since 2006.
"Hopefully that spiral can come to an end come next season where first-class cricket will be looked after a bit better. I know that is in the plans that we do potentially have more first-class cricket back home. But yes, it's a tough one. I've got to bite my tongue," Elgar said the match.
It was evident that Elgar was holding back in his criticism of the Test schedule that is offered to the team. The start of SA20 next year and restructuring of the domestic first-class competition means less red-ball cricket for the players and have no three-match Test series until 2026.
"We need to be playing more Test cricket and our players need to be exposed to this level. Even though we're taking a hiding like we've had in the first two Tests here and the England series that we had, our players need to be exposed to that," he explained.
"Unfortunately we are all learning in the most ruthless and brutal way but I think there are more learnings out of this than going out and playing against a team that's of similar strength and we beat them," Elgar added.
Despite the latest defeat, South Africa still have a chance to make the World Test Championship final if they win the third Test in Sydney. Elgar hasn't lost hope yet.
"There's a saying in cricket - you're only one knock away from being back in form and got to believe that. For me, it's not just a cliche. I think there's a lot of merit in it. We have to still keep the encouragement and keep reminding the guys that they're not crap cricketers - let's put it that way and to be blunt," he said.
Besides Kyle Verreynne's 52 in the first innings and Temba Bavuma's 65 in the second, there were no notable contributions from the South African batters. On top of that, Mitchell Starc wasn't at 100% in the second innings, something which didn't escape Elgar's assessment of his team.
"You can hit as many balls as you want, it's not going to change as a cricketer. The game is 80-20: 80% in the mind, 20% skill. At the moment that applies quite highly for our batting group. The thing about Test cricket is you want to get bowlers into their third and fourth spells. We're not getting to that position in the game which is quite disappointing because I always feel that might be a weakness in most bowling line-ups," he said.
"If the guys are really tired and you're pushing them into those longer spells where they really need a lot more energy, you can gauge or judge what they might have," he added.
South Africa, who are fourth in the WTC table, will face off against toppers Australia (132 points) in the third Test at the SCG starting on January 4.