SA captain AB de Villiers, left, England's Stuart Broad, centre, and winning skipper Alastair Cook contemplate the outcome of the  third Test at the Wanderers on January 17, 2016. Picture: AFP
SA captain AB de Villiers, left, England's Stuart Broad, centre, and winning skipper Alastair Cook contemplate the outcome of the third Test at the Wanderers on Saturday. Picture: AFP

WITH another match-fixing scandal darkening its doorway, the last thing SA cricket needed was a performance like the one their Test team delivered at the Wanderers on Saturday — when they lost the third match of the series against England by seven wickets with two days to spare.

Two days to ache about being dismissed for 83 in their second innings. Two days to let the awfulness of losing the series sink in. Two days to embrace the disappointment of having been toppled off the top of the Test rankings.

Two days to wonder what the hell the point of the fourth Test, in Centurion starting on Friday, is.

Two days for Dale Steyn to mull over Stuart Broad becoming the No1 Test bowler.

Two days for Broad to wish he wasn’t in Johannesburg. Told to "enjoy the days off" by a reporter on Saturday, Broad said, "I’d prefer the two days off in Cape Town."

But, as long as what happened on the field outshone events beyond the bookmaking boundary, the game was safe from fatal self-harm. That is no longer the case.

Is Gulam Bodi innocent or guilty of "contriving to fix, or otherwise improperly influence" matches in the 2015 franchise Twenty20 competition, as Cricket SA’s charge sheet against him has it? It seems he hasn’t decided.

"We have to plead to the charges, which we will do in due course," Bodi’s lawyer, Ayoob Kaka, said. "We will have to study the charge sheet before we decide how we will plead."

For now, Bodi "is co-operating with the investigation as much as he is able to". But with up to 47 players — among them four South African caps — having apparently been questioned by investigators, cricket in this country should be put on suicide watch.

Last week was the perfect storm for SA. For Broad, he of the 6/17, five of them taken in the space of 31 balls for a solitary run, Saturday was "a perfect day for us".

SA’s perfect day was August 20, 2012, when they completed a 2-0 series win over England at Lord’s to rise to the top of the Test pile.

Their XI for that match comprised Alviro Petersen, Graeme Smith, Hashim Amla, Jacques Kallis, AB de Villiers, Jacques Rudolph, JP Duminy, Vernon Philander, Steyn, Morné Morkel and Imran Tahir. Of that side, only Amla, De Villiers and Morkel know the pain of the Wanderers wallop.

"We’re not the same side any more," De Villiers said, adding erroneously, "we’re still up there in the rankings, but that means absolutely nothing."

In fact, SA will slip to third place at best. If they lose at Centurion, they will be fourth.

"I believe our form of late has been really poor and it will take something really special to turn it around," De Villiers said. "We miss Dale, there’s no doubt about that. We miss Vern. We miss Kallis as well. But this is the team we have and the team I believe in."

De Villiers is part of that team — for now. "I was never thinking of leaving Test cricket at all," he said, easing fears that at least a partial retirement was imminent.

Two days ago, SA saw a future so dark they should be wearing miners’ helmets.

Two days from now, they will be two days away from a match in which the only way is up.

"It’s up to the XI that get picked at Centurion to do something special," De Villiers said. Too late. This is SA’s ground zero.