GRAEME Smith's paternity leave from SA's tour of England has been treated with touching seriousness by his team-mates.
Their heartfelt feelings are a measure of the unity that the Proteas have in their ranks as they plot the home side's downfall in the second Test, which would see them become the top-ranked Test team.
The players could also be placing a higher emotional value on their senior leadership in the wake of the enforced retirement of the team's heart, soul and default hard man, Mark Boucher, early in the tour.
Smith returned to the fold yesterday after spending the past six days with his wife, Morgan Deane, and the couple's first child, Cadence, who was born on Wednesday.
In that time SA came back to earth from their innings victory in the first Test at the Oval in London last Monday by way of a low key two-day match against Worcestershire at New Road, which was drawn.
Gentle though that landing from their euphoric high would have been, Smith's men seem to have felt his absence keenly.
Asked at the weekend how useful the game against Worcestershire was as preparation for the second Test at Headingley in Leeds on Thursday, AB de Villiers said: "I'm very happy for Graeme, but we're obviously a bit disjointed because we don't have the whole squad here..
"The team spirit is really good and once we get together as a squad again, we'll be ready to go."
Vernon Philander voiced similar views: "He's gone home for the right reasons, but it's a bit hard when you're missing the leader, and having him back will be a big plus for us.
"Graeme is the main leader. He's the guy to keep the troops together. Once he gets back we can get back to normal," he said.
Team manager Mohammed Moosajee said yesterday those sentiments were indicative of the tightly knit group the squad had become on and off the field.
"They were all very excited because it's a great event when someone becomes a father, but when any leader is not around, a vacuum is created," Moosajee said.
"I wouldn't say they were worried. I think they could just feel that Graeme wasn't around.
"They feel his presence not only on the field or at practice, but also at the breakfast table or sitting in the same seat on the bus. You miss the presence of the person, and I think that's what they were referring to."