South Africa’s final competitive hit-out before the battle with Australia begins next week was not so much a pre-Test warm-up as a carefully managed cool-down.
Recognising that the placid pitch on which they had toted up almost 500 in 90 overs a day earlier was only going to deliver hard work for their bowlers, the Proteas opted to keep their prized strike pair safely under wraps.
And while Dale Steyn did little other than help out with some throw downs in the nearby nets and some shout outs from the sunny sidelines, his likely Test new-ball partner Kagiso Rabada was even less visible as South Australia’s second XI made a fist of their notional pursuit of the tourists’ 489.
Which finished when the rival skippers agreed to pull stumps 15 minutes early with the local lads boasting a scoresheet that showed 8-435 in a spirited reply.
The main element of the day’s activity, apart from allowing left-arm spin pair Keshav Maharaj and Tabraiz Shamsi a workload they will not likely see again on this tour as well as Tim Ludeman a chance to reaffirm his first-class credentials, was get a gauge on Morne Morkel’s readiness to return to Test cricket.
The beanpole seamer having spent months on the sidelines due to a back injury that only allowed him to return to bowling in recent weeks.
The evidence tendered by the 32-year-old veteran of 71 Tests and almost 150 limited-overs internationals was that the back can certainly bend when required, but he’s not about to break it again for no good purpose.
Morkel was the most threatening of South Africa’s pace attack in the absence of Steyn and Rabada, and that was largely because of his extra yard or two of pace and centimetre or so in height allowed to extract bounce from the most benign of surfaces.
He was certainly the only South Africa quick to cause batters any hurry up on a pitch that was about as far removed as what awaits at the WACA as Perth is from Pietermaritzburg.
Whereas Kyle Abbott, also a bang-it-in back-of-a-length bowler who is directly competing with Morkel for a Test berth, and more so swing specialist Vernon Philander, who was clubbed with impunity whenever he lost his length, were treated with contempt by their brash young opponents.
It was only when Morkel came into the attack in the 10th over, at which point the SACA was rattling along at around a run per ball, that batting started to look an occasionally challenging pastime.
And even though it was the final session before he was rewarded with a wicket – rattling the stumps of reigning Bradman Young Cricketer of the Year Alex Ross with the second new ball – Morkel had shown he was capable of the sorts of spells that might prove decisive on a more responsive WACA surface.
"He bowled some really quick spells throughout the day and you saw that spell with the second new ball, he looked really, really good," left-arm spinner Keshav Maharaj said at the end of the Proteas final tour game before the first Test starts on Thursday.
"He looked at 100 per cent from the Morne Morkel we know and hopefully he can carry that into the matches that follow."
Morkel might have been the only South Africa quick not to leak runs at more than five an over today, but it was uncapped Maharaj who returned the tidiest figures (3-59 from 17.2 overs) as Ludeman blazed an imperious 167 from 134 balls with 20 boundaries and eight sweetly timed sixes.
Just to remind Alex Carey and the South Australia selectors that there is a second top calibre ‘keeper – and a third, if aspiring gloveman and recent South Africa fill-in Harry Nielsen is factored in – eyeing the first-class gig with the Redbacks.
No doubt mindful of the trauma Australia’s Test top-order underwent at the left-hand of Sri Lanka veteran Rangana Herath earlier this year, Maharaj’s immaculate opening 10 overs yielded him the remarkable return of 1-7.
Even more noteworthy in light of the struggles that South Australia’s left-arm spin pair Tom Andrews (0-120 from 16.5 overs) and Michael Cormack (2-104) had experienced against the brutal South Africa batting on day one.
Maharaj, who earned a call-up for this tour on the back of a 13-wicket match haul in South Africa’s domestic first-class competition last month, claims he did not witness a lot of Australia’s fragility against spin on their disastrous Test tour of Sri Lanka.
But he is aware that some scarring might remain should he get the chance to bowl at Test level before this impending series is done.
"I did see some of it, and while they did struggle it was different conditions so we have to bear that in mind when it comes to them playing spin," the 26-year-old said.
"It’s a positive, but on any given day the conditions could be different so we take it from there."
Maharaj also played the straightest of bats to queries about his team’s thoughts on the make-up of Australia’s Test squad announced earlier in the day, and the notion that the touring team might even enter Thursday’s opening Test a marginal favourite given the Australians’ most recent Test form.
But former Australia coach Tim Nielsen, now High Performance Manager at the South Australia Cricket Association, saw plenty of the Proteas in their two warm-up games against decidedly younger opposition in Adelaide.
And having coached against them numerous times during his tenure at the helm of the national team from 2007-11, he did not witness anything unexpected from the tourists.
As a result, he says another tough Test campaign looms from next week.
"They are batting well," Nielsen said of the Proteas, who have cruised past 400 in a single day’s batting in both of their warm-up fixtures.
"Irrespective of the scores they seem to be moving nicely and they’re thinking well – they are positive in their movement patterns.
"We know the quality of guys like (Faf) du Plessis and (Quinton) de Kock, they’re such good ball strikers and they score quickly.
"(Opener Dean) Elgar played really nicely yesterday, he’s an organised player and will add some stability they’ll be looking for at the top of the order.
"It will be interesting to see how their bowling goes, I suspect they’ll play four quicks (in the first Test) and potentially use Duminy to bowl some off-spin for them and maybe Dean Elgar can roll out some left armers as well.
"They’ve played pretty well in Test cricket for a while now using a fairly standard formula for their group and their team, they’ll rely on their top-order batting.
"The big difference is that someone will have to step up for the fact that (injured skipper) AB de Villiers is not here, he tends to find 50 for them most innings so they’ll need to find those 50 runs from someone the in the team.
"And then try and bowl (Australia) side out."