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Off to the Cape, with good hope



The soles of the trainers Rassie van der Dussen wore at Newlands on Wednesday were studded with purple and turquoise rubber pebbles - which made it seem like he was walking on two flavours of bubblegum. Keshav Maharaj favoured a similar colour scheme, even on his uppers, albeit, minus the pebbles; he is a smoother operator. Orange flames and blue smudges on a white background was Vernon Philander's footwear preference. Quinton de Kock is unarguably the most outrageously talented in this company, but he wore the most understated shoes among them: blue-grey marl knit with off-white soles.

Mere weeks ago, South African cricket was divided along as many lines as a stretch of crazy paving. The biggest cracks are still there - hello? Cricket South Africa's (CSA) board? When are you going to resign? - and none of the major faultlines were in the team. Even so, to have all those contrastingly-clad feet happily pointed in the same direction in the afterglow of victory in the first men's Test at Centurion seems miraculous.

It's just one win, and the team is far from the only aspect of the game in this country that desperately needs fixing. That success, however, and the manner of its achieving, hints at what awaits if more of the remaining problems are resolved.

In the wake of a failed World Cup campaign and five consecutive Test defeats, the only way was up. But that doesn't take away from the shining truth that the appointments of Jacques Faul as CSA's acting chief executive, Graeme Smith as acting director of cricket, Mark Boucher as coach, and - for the summer - Jacques Kallis and Charl Langeveldt as batting and bowling consultants have had the desired effect.

For Rassie van der Dussen, who was among South Africa's more reliable batters at the World Cup and became the first man to score a half-century on debut in all three formats (when he made 51 in the second innings at Centurion), the change for the better was striking.

"The work ethic was something that I've never seen before, and the intensity at training," he said of preparations for the first Test. "It's a new dawn for South African cricket. We were desperate to regain the public's [good] opinion of us and of [CSA]. You have that responsibility towards the fans - to put in a good performance and to win matches. Last year wasn't the best for CSA and the Proteas, but the fight the guys showed - Anrich Nortj e 's innings showed what we're about as a team - means we're committed to giving our all."

South Africa were 62/4 when Nortj e , playing his third Test, joined Van der Dussen as a nightwatch on the second evening. He survived 16 balls before stumps and another 21 the next day, in all batting for more than two hours for his career-best 40 and sharing a stand of 91 - South Africa's best of the match and just one run shy of matching the partnership England openers Rory Burns Dom Sibley put on in the second innings as the biggest overall. What the South Africans saw on the field, Van der Dussen said, was an expression of what was happening beyond the balcony.

"There's a different atmosphere in the changeroom. Boucher and Kallis have brought the really hard mentality that you need in Test cricket. It's a high pressure environment; it's strenuous out there on the field. You need that hardness and toughness. That's why Graeme Smith brought in a guy like Mark Boucher - to be a fighter and feisty character. We have those characteristics, but Boucher really brought it out in us."

Maharaj was adamant that, even through the bad times, "the passion has always been there". But his own giddily raucous reaction to bowling Ben Stokes off the bottom edge on Sunday said plenty, especially as he isn't the most demonstrative player on the field. "We've come off a difficult Test season, so to get the win meant a lot to the guys," Maharaj said. "From where we were, in a disruptive period, to where we are now, we were always going to celebrate each others' successes and the victory that came with that."

Philander made his Test debut at Newlands in November 2011 in a team that included Smith, Kallis and Boucher. So he knew who he was dealing with: "When you have guys who have played at the highest level, it makes it easier. You can really feed off them. Having the credibility of the guys in the changeroom now, who have been there and understand what it takes to get back up again, has made a big difference."

Langeveldt's influence was apparent at Centurion, where South Africa's pace attack relied on more than the muscle and aggression that has been their plan A. Suddenly, they had skills and a willingness to bowl a fuller length.

"'Langes has also been around," Philander said. "Between him and myself and a couple of the bowlers, we try and get to the answer quicker, [rather] than feeling our way into a spell and then starting to realise [what to do] halfway through."

For De Kock, the proof of the pudding was in the reinvention: "The guys are very focused at the moment. I'm not saying they weren't focused before, but the confidence was down. Now, with this win, the confidence is very high. We've got a great team environment, and we're bringing that onto the field."

There was even room for a joke in this brave new dressing room. The first half of it was told at Centurion by Boucher, who said he was happy he didn't have to get 11 De Kocks to straighten up and fly right. To De Kock fell the pleasure of delivering the punchline: "I'm sure his coaches were happy not to have to deal with 11 Mark Bouchers. I guess sometimes I can be a handful, but we get on well. He's probably just giving me some lip anyway. I don't know what I've done wrong. Yet."
Having won by 107 runs with four sessions to spare at Centurion, South Africa will hope to take their rekindled self-belief, and more, onto the field with them when the second Test starts at Newlands on Friday. They could do worse than look at their firmly-grounded feet, realise that the shoe fits, and wear it.

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