Australia's ageing and ailing Test squad has learnt that it didn't need botox jabs to conceal its fatigue after a disappointing 2008. What it required was a proper injection of youth. Australia fielded their most inexperienced side for 20 years when they took the field at the Wanderers and a fortnight later they had wrapped up a series victory and discovered some seriously talented players for the future.
The retirement of Matthew Hayden and injuries to key men Stuart Clark, Brett Lee and Andrew Symonds - all of whom are over 32 - allowed Australia to try out fresh faces like Phillip Hughes, Ben Hilfenhaus and Marcus North, all of whom debuted in Johannesburg. The remaining senior men have been reinvigorated by the energy of their younger colleagues.
"We've turned into a very tight-knit group," the vice-captain Michael Clarke said. "That's been one of our major strengths over here, how well everyone has got along. There's all this youth, all this enthusiasm, the boys have trained their absolute backsides off, but we're all having a really good tour together. Everyone is getting on so well.
"It holds us in good stead for the future. It makes a big difference when you've got a good bunch of guys around you. I was talking to my old man the other day and he said you guys look unbelievable on the field, everyone is having a great time, and that's honestly the way it is. We're just out there having a great time, playing well, winning - we're flying."
Hughes has been the standout performer after making twin centuries in Durban
but North was also brilliant in compiling a hundred on debut at the Wanderers
. Hilfenhaus has bowled superbly and deserved greater rewards, while other men to have joined the squad in the past few months, players like Andrew McDonald and Peter Siddle, have played key roles in the series win.
It's only three months since Australia suffered demoralising defeats to South Africa in Perth and Melbourne that led to their first home series loss in 16 years. But the touring squad has such a fresh appearance that Hughes, North, Hilfenhaus and McDonald have never played in a Test defeat. The same can be said of Doug Bollinger and Bryce McGain, who have not yet been used on the trip.
"Sometimes when the young guys come in they play with freedom," the veteran batsman Simon Katich said. "There are no scars from the past. A few of them didn't play in Australia so they didn't carry any baggage from that series. The beauty is that the guys that they've picked have been in good form, they've gone in with confidence, they've been playing well."
Following their enormous efforts in Johannesburg and Durban, the players are enjoying a much-deserved break in Cape Town and will not return to training until after the weekend. It has given them opportunities to see the sights with their families or, in several cases, with their team-mates, and the captain Ricky Ponting said that for such a young group it was an advantage to be forming new friendships away from home.
"Being away on an overseas tour makes [bonding] a lot easier," Ponting said. "You get to know the guys and get to know what makes them tick on and off the cricket field. The week we had in Potch [before the first Test] was good for us to get together and bond and get to know each other. We've taken that onto the field and played some great cricket."
After the series wraps up in the third Test, which starts at Newlands on Friday, the next challenge for Australia's selectors is to work out how to combine the successful new players and the returning proven veterans into one outfit. The selectors have said there are no guarantees
for the older men like Lee and Symonds, but Clarke said having so many highly qualified players could only be a good thing.
"It's all healthy competition," Clarke said. "Since I've played international cricket there's always been someone in front of you that you're trying to catch or be as good as, or there are plenty of people behind you trying to take your spot.
"There's going to be pressure on the selectors there to work out what the best mix is. If everyone is fit, they've just got to work out what the best mix is for who we're playing and where we're playing them. It's great competition, it's very healthy for the team."