South Africa 225 (du Plessis 78*) and 569 (Amla 196, de Villiers 169, Smith 84, Starc 6-154) beat Australia 163 (Wade 68, Steyn 4-40) and 322 (Starc 68*, Cowan 53, Steyn 3-72, Peterson 3-127) by 309 runs
Scorecard and ball-by-ball details
To crib a line from E.T.'s Elliot, this is reality. South Africa embossed their No. 1 ranking with a fearful hiding of Australia in the series-deciding third Test in Perth, and not even the torrent of goodwill sent Ricky Ponting's way on his final day as an international cricketer could prevent resounding confirmation that the hosts remain a long way short of genuine aspirations to be the best team in the world. Three-hundred-and-nine runs short, in fact.
Ponting made an emotional last appearance at the Test match batting crease - fittingly afforded a guard of honour by Graeme Smith - but his final tally of eight was as unsatisfying as the rest of the day for Australia, as they failed completely to cope with the dimensions of a world-record run chase, or alternatively the need to bat for two days to save the match. The Ponting episode was a brief interlude in a day characterised by South Africa's unrelenting attack on the batsmen.
In the end it was the No. 10 Mitchell Starc who top scored with a freewheeling 68, entertainment for the crowd but an indictment on those before him. Only the obdurate Ed Cowan stood his ground for any length of time, but even he had reason to curse the manner of his departure, hooking at Dale Steyn and being taken at deep square leg.
Others were out in similarly cavalier manner without applying themselves for anywhere near as long, as Steyn, Vernon Philander, Morne Morkel and Robin Peterson benefited from the pressure applied by each other. Peterson's left-arm spin was a particular delight for the visitors, drift, turn and bounce perhaps earning him a more permanent Test place ahead of the looser leg breaks of Imran Tahir.
South Africa's victory was just reward for a persistent campaign that showed an experienced understanding of Test cricket's nature as a game where how a team starts is far less critical than how one finishes. Passive at times in Brisbane and Adelaide, the visitors reached the WACA ground with the series all square thanks to the magnificent defiance of Faf du Plessis, and in the decider showed an instinct for the kill that underlined their ultimate superiority.
Australia, meanwhile, bore the look of a team that had fired all their bullets in the first two Tests. Despite a decent start to the match with a completely recast bowling attack, they were cut to pieces on the second day, those six hours opening a chasm that not even Ponting in his pomp would have had a chance of closing. Spectators were left to wonder how much Ponting's sorrowful exit had affected Australia's performance. On the final day their batting appeared distracted, showing little real interest in fighting the match out to a finish. It was Michael Clarke's first series loss as captain.
Any remote hopes Australia had harboured of producing something miraculous were more or less negated by the day's second ball. Philander had beaten Cowan outside off stump a few times on the third evening with balls seaming away, but this time David Warner snicked a similar delivery low to an exultant Smith at first slip.
Shane Watson and Cowan persisted for a time against bowling that was never less than exacting, their few angry shots standing out against mainly stony defence. Watson's quest to become a Test No. 3 of the required thoroughness is well-known, but he was to fall short again, shunted out by Morkel's hostility. First a bouncer singed Watson's nose, and next ball a fuller delivery on an immaculate line coaxed an edge to slip
That brought Ponting to the crease for what many hoped would be a major score. Ponting moved off nought with a regal pull shot from the bowling of Morkel, but exited when trying to force Peterson off the back foot through cover, Jacques Kallis taking a smart catch at slip. He walked from the field briskly, but turned to wave his bat to the WACA ground crowd one last time, as the ground's big screen was emblazoned with the words 'Thanks Ricky'.
Clarke and Cowan resumed after lunch with an aggressive approach, but it would prove the undoing of both. Cowan's hook at Steyn allowed Dean Elgar the first positive contribution of his debut as he tumbled to take the catch. Clarke was doubled over in pain when Philander struck him a stinging blow in the groin, and after a delay he resumed with seemingly little intention of knuckling down for the day. There were some attractive strokes, but it was no great surprise when Clarke jumped down the wicket to a beautifully teasing delivery from Peterson, was beaten in flight and spin and stumped by a distance.
Hussey's match concluded when he was nipped out from around the wicket for the second time in the match, and Matthew Wade's vain attempt to slog Peterson ended with a sharp catch at short midwicket. Mitchell Johnson did not last long after tea, snicking Philander, and John Hastings struck a pair of blows before doing likewise to Morkel. Nathan Lyon hung around long enough to help Starc hit out with some effect, notching a half-century from a mere 32 balls, but his parting shots were of only the briefest irritation to South Africa, rightfully the world's best team.
Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here