Can South Africa defer de Villiers' break-up with Test cricket?

If it's something new you're after, you're not going to find it from the second day's play between South Africa and Australia. But if it's something tried and trusted and cherished you'd prefer, then you're in the right place.

On a scorecard South Africa's line-up will not be proud of, one man could hold his head high, the same man who often stands head and shoulders above the rest. AB de Villiers proved yet again how much South Africa needs him and how much Test cricket needs him. And he only needed two balls to make that point.

After Nathan Lyon claimed two wickets in four deliveries in his first over, de Villiers defused the tension as he defended the final ball and then danced down the track to whip the first ball of Lyon's second over through midwicket.

That's AB de Villiers.

While everyone else seems to be walking through hot coals, he is floating a magic carpet, wielding a wand, casting spells and making cricketing dreams come true.

Not this time.

While de Villiers was not overly bothered by anyone in the Australian attack, his team-mates were. They were deceived by the angle from Mitchell Starc, like Faf du Plessis, or cramped in the crease, like Quinton de Kock. They could not offer de Villiers any support, and he recognised the lack of partnerships as "key to our downfall," which should send South Africa into some deep introspection about their depth.

They have to answer questions about whether they have players coming through who can take over from de Villiers, if not immediately, then in the mid-term future. And they have at least one possible answer. Aiden Markram has been talked of as an immense talent across all formats and has the numbers to justify the hype. He has a first class average of 47.73 and also holds the record for the highest individual score - 183 off 138 balls - in a franchise List A game, but since he was made ODI captain for the series against India, Markram has not looked like someone who can boast figures like that and coach Ottis Gibson has noticed it.

"I don't know if the whole responsibility around captaining has been too much for him but it seems he is trying to bat in a way that is not the Aiden Markram I saw in September. I've spoken to him about that," Gibson said after the ODI at Newlands on February 13.

Two-and-a-half weeks have passed since and Markram still can't get out of the 30s, though this was the innings in which he looked most likely to progress. Markram was eye-catchingly aggressive and drove confidently but then had a lapse in concentration on the stroke of tea. Without de Villiers, Markram's dismissal could have sent South Africa into freefall. With de Villiers, it has given them something, mostly a reminder that they are not a team that can move on from him, as they claimed to have done during the England tour, just yet.

So what we really need to wonder is whether AB de Villiers still needs South Africa and still needs Test cricket?

Financially, he doesn't. The IPL alone has provided de Villiers with more income than the average South African will see in a lifetime. On top of that, he has earned the salary of an international sportsman for almost a decade-and-a-half, has had various commercial sponsorships, most notably an MRF deal which is believed to have kept him in the game, and has played in at least one other T20 tournament, the Caribbean Premier League. Though de Villiers often cites financial security as a reason to keep searching for new opportunities in cricket, he is beyond needing a job and he continues to play cricket for non-material reasons.

At heart, de Villiers is both the ultimate competitor and the ultimate patriot. He hates losing and he hates losing even more if it's for South Africa. He still claims to be "loving my cricket," and is not giving away too much about whether he regards this as final hurrah. "I am taking it one game at a time, I can't afford to look too far ahead," de Villiers said. "I am loving the environment and, hopefully, it will continue for a long time."

What de Villiers needs seems to be camaraderie and we all know team spirit is higher when results are going the right way. After beating India in Tests but crashing spectacularly in the white-ball matches, this series is the tipping point for the team. Perform well, and there is something to believe in. Perform poorly, and the doom will descend.

South Africa have been in the doldrums before, with de Villiers as part of the squad. In the 2015-16 summer, they lost in India and then to England. What followed was de Villiers taking an almost two-year sabbatical from the longest format. Then, de Villiers hinted this series could be his last. Now, he is not so sure and his team-mates may be the ones that can swing his decision.

De Villiers has already made a big impact on what could be his last big series. The rest owe it to him to dig deep and prove they have some big-match temperament, too. Otherwise, it's de Villiers on his own, and not even the man himself seems to see the sense in that.