A THUMPING victory over New Zealand, tighter wins in two series against Pakistan and a convincing beating of India. That's what the doctor has ordered for the Proteas in the 10 test matches they will play this year, and they should not have too much trouble ticking all of those boxes.
Except for the latter Pakistan series, which is scheduled for the Arabian desert, Graeme Smith's team will play all of their tests at home against opponents who between them have won just seven of the 45 tests they have ever contested in South Africa.
The Proteas snatched the No1 test crown in England and brought it safely home from Australia. Regardless of marketing gimmicks like rankings, there can be no questioning their status as the top team in the game.
Dale Steyn and Jacques Kallis are on top of the official bowling and allrounder charts respectively, Hashim Amla is in third place among batsmen – ranking Michael Clarke and Shivnarine Chanderpaul above him exposes the endemic idiocy of the International Cricket Council (ICC) – and Smith is three wins away from surpassing Ricky Ponting as test cricket's most successful captain.
On Wednesday, Steyn reached 300 test wickets and Kallis passed 13000 test runs.
If South Africa do not tower über alles in test cricket this year, something will have gone badly wrong. But a disproportionately large part of their focus this year will be on a goal that has proved unattainable – winning an ICC trophy.
The Proteas will have their umpteenth opportunity to do so in the 50-over Champions Trophy in England in May.
They will play eight one-day internationals before the tournament, but no amount of preparation in the shorter formats has hitherto steeled South Africa sufficiently to play to their potential in high-profile tournaments.
Gary Kirsten's first bite at that cherry came to a messy end at the World T20 in Sri Lanka in October, when his team could not find their way out of the second round.
It is unfair on the Proteas that they should have to jump through limited-overs hoops to please their public when they are such a high-quality test team. But that is the way of the modern cricket world, and best they satisfy those demands sooner rather than later if they want to avoid a build-up of unhappiness over their lack of success in less serious forms of the game.
The squad chosen for the recent T20 series against New Zealand included the previously uncapped Quinton de Kock, Chris Morris, Aaron Phangiso and Henry Davids.
But South Africa do not have that encouraging level of depth available at first-class level.
Marchant de Lange's return from a stress fracture has already been delayed, and Dean Elgar's rude introduction to test cricket in Perth – he bagged a pair – made plain the size of the step up required of provincial players.
South Africa will definitely reach for the one-day stars again this year, but best they keep their test feet on the ground while they do so.