Cape Town - The Proteas, having provided a glimmer of hope after winning the second match of the series in Port Elizabeth, came crashing back down to earth at Newlands on Wednesday night to lose their T20 series against Australia 2-1.
More significant than the series loss, however, was the nature of the defeats with the hosts bowled out for 89 in the opening fixture at the Wanderers and then 96 in Cape Town.
Under the new leadership of head coach Mark Boucher and captain Quinton de Kock, the Proteas have a lot of work ahead of them in the format if they are to be a real threat at the T20 World Cup in Australia later this year.
There are, at this stage, far more questions than answers.
Few individuals have done themselves any favours with World Cup selection in mind, with the top order batting the obvious concern.
The Proteas will have to wait until a five-match series in the West Indies in August before they play any T20 cricket again, but there will be plenty to reflect on between now and then.
Here, we look at five talking points to have emerged from the series.
1. De Kock, the captain ...
It's far too early in his captaincy to draw any conclusions, but De Kock has certainly displayed promising signs as South Africa's new white ball leader. The added responsibility has not impacted his batting and there is fresh energy in the squad while innovative field placings and intelligent bowling changes have been good to see. In elite sport, however, results matter and they haven't gone De Kock's way. He acknowledges that he is learning all the time, but with the World Cup lurking, time is not a luxury he has.
2. Bowling provides some hope ...
In every match, there were at least positives to take from South Africa's bowling performances. In the 1st and 3rd T20s, Australia looked set to post scores of around the 230/240 mark at certain stages, but the Proteas pulled it back well on both occasions to restrict their visitors to less than 200. Their efforts to defend a modest 158 in the 2nd T20 in PE were superb. Spinner Tabraiz Shamsi was the shining light, going at just 6.08 to the over throughout the series, while the death bowling of Lungi Ngidi continues to improve. With Kagiso Rabada, Dale Steyn and Anrich Nortje all involved, the bowling department is an area where the Proteas look well-stocked.
3. The allrounder conundrum ...
South Africa's two white ball allrounders presently are Andile Phehlukwayo and Dwaine Pretorius, and neither are knocking the World Cup door down, It is an area where the Proteas seem to constantly be looking for more, across all three formats. Phehlukwayo, in particular, is struggling. His batting has not improved enough for him to be a force at this level, while he has not found consistency with the ball going back to the England T20s and ODIs. Pretorius continues to show signs that he has the right ingredients, but he could do with some telling performances with the bat. The days of Klusener, Pollock and Boucher continue to haunt this side, and the lack of batting firepower down the order is noticeable.
4. Much, much more expected from seniors ...
With the top order under pressure and far too much riding on De Kock, South Africa need their experienced batsmen to stand up and that, once more, did not happen against Australia. It is a conversation that comes up all too often when discussing David Miller, who failed twice in the series when his side needed him desperately. The return of former skipper Faf du Plessis also didn't provide the injection of runs needed, with the 35-year-old carding scores of 24, 15 and 5 in his three knocks. In no way should Miller and Du Plessis be blamed for the side's dismal returns in Johannesburg and Cape Town, but as senior players more is expected.
5. To AB, or not to AB?
With the batting this fragile, the debate around AB de Villiers' participation at the World Cup will only gather momentum. Whichever way they decide to go, this is an issue that Proteas management must resolve soon. We can't have a repeat of the circus that unfolded during the 2019 World Cup where De Villiers' availability, and then non-selection, made headlines. It is clear that there is still a place for him in this top order, but if De Villiers is going to play again then he needs to commit now. Get him involved in the West Indies series, at the very least. Including players like De Villiers, Du Plessis, Steyn and Imran Tahir in the World Cup plans obviously does nothing for the long-term future of this side, but if it gives the Proteas a shot at achieving something in Australia, then it is well worth it. The best available players need to go to that tournament, so if De Villiers is available, then that needs to be known.
* Make no mistake, this Australian side is potent in all departments and they are pre-tournament favourites for the T20 World Cup. England are also incredibly strong in limited overs cricket, so it has been somewhat of a baptism of fire for De Kock and Boucher. Being bowled out for less than 100 twice in a T20 series can never be acceptable, though.
Attention will swiftly shift to a three-match ODI series against the Aussies, which gets underway in Paarl on Saturday.