Graeme Smith's courageous decision to bat with a broken hand in the Sydney Test was indicative of the spark and the willpower that his men displayed throughout the tour of Australia. He was in charge of a side that had risen to so many challenges, come back from so many seemingly irreparable positions that nobody was prepared to write them off.
When South Africa's lower order gradually faded away on the fifth afternoon in Durban, Smith, with a broken hand yet again, remained in his green shirt and shorts, watching on with a depressed look. He wasn't padding up. There were to be no heroics and nobody could blame him. Few players would have done what he did at the SCG.
But the fact that he didn't even appear to consider batting said much about South Africa's state of mind on this return tour. It was a squad that lacked intensity and seemed to have left all its energy in Australia. Following the Kingsmead defeat, Smith was at a loss to explain exactly what had changed besides a diminishment in the potency of the attack.
"We've been outplayed in every facet of the game and I think Australia created pressure and have been a lot sharper and more intense," Smith said. "In particular they've bowled really well as a unit. They've been able to create that sustained pressure on our batters and that's something that we haven't really done well.
"We've started indifferently with the ball often, which has made it very difficult for us to come back in the games. We've fought hard at the back ends of both Test matches but we just haven't done enough up front to get ourselves into the game early on. In the two first innings in both Test matches I think we've let ourselves down, we've just left ourselves too much to do."
Smith's men left Australia on the back of a loss but with their first win in a Test series in Australia. They were also tantalisingly close to the world No. 1 Test ranking. Any sort of victory in the series in South Africa would have got them there. It meant a massive build-up but Smith said the pressure on his side from the public was not an issue.
"I don't think expectation had anything to do with it," Smith said. "It's been a stellar season for this team in terms of what they've achieved over the last period of time and with the results through England and playing so well in India and defeating Australia away. I think we never quite achieved those heights in this series. It's as simple as that."
South Africa's series defeat was their first in two-and-a-half years. They entered the Johannesburg and Durban Tests with the same starting XI that played all three games in Australia. That will change for Cape Town, where Smith will not play due to his injury and Neil McKenzie and Morne Morkel have been dropped. Smith said it was a shame that the group had been split up after the end of their successful run of 10 series without a loss.
"It's naturally disappointing, this group has been together for a period of time now and had enormous success," Smith said. "Unfortunately the way of life or the way of sport that if the selectors feel you haven't played well enough then it's a natural progression that things are going to change. It's our job now to get behind the new guys and give them as much support and make them feel welcome and ready to play at Newlands."