When Graeme Smith took his team home from Australia in the summer of 2005-06, he could not see a way to beat Ricky Ponting's Invincibles. If you had told him then that seven years later, he would have had the better of Ponting twice he would not have believed it. After South Africa's win in Perth, Smith had done just that and his satisfaction far outweighed any disbelief.
"In 2005, it seemed a very long shot to be able to achieve this. I am extremely humbled," he said. "I hope the people in Australia can respect what we have done and the way we have done it. For us, it means the world.
"There are people in our set up that have taken many beatings at the hands of Australia. We know what is required to come here and be victorious. When we get on the plane, I will have a warm feeling to have been a part of something incredible and something special and to have been able to share with guys who have put in an immense amount of hard work behind the scenes to celebrate these moments."
The post-match party began in customary style, as the Australia team went over to the South Africa change-room to share a drink. The visitors, who were also the victors, stayed long after the hosts had left. After 8pm, the South Africa team made their way on to the field, bags and all, to have a celebratory photo session, which reminded team manager, Mohammed Moosajee, of their MCG revelries four years ago. As they walked out to the pitch where they had made history they were snapped along the way.
In the privacy of the dressing room there may have been wilder festivities but in the open they were more restrained, even though there was no one but a few journalists watching while they worked. South Africa gathered together for a huddle and sang their team song. The lyrics haven't been released but the essence of the anthem is about understanding what representing the country means. There might also have been a rendition of 'Happy Birthday' for Mark Boucher.
In previous series wins, South Africa have held longer parties on field but this time it only lasted ten or so minutes. Then, they gathered their bags and walked off. Some of the team were able to get on a flight back home tonight, along with most of the management. The rest will follow tomorrow. Having spent almost half the year on the road, returning home has been a priority for the team throughout the year.
This time, they go back having achieved more than ever before. The No. 1 ranking is secure and they have enjoyed a year during which they racked up a second successive series win in both England and Australia. That pattern is the "proudest achievement," of Graeme Smith's career - and surely every other member of the squad too. As a mark of how rare success in Australia is, consider that before today, only England and West Indies had recorded successive series victories in Australia.
Winning in Australia is an achievement purely because of the quality of the opposition and their history of dominance. But for South Africa it is also how they won this series that stands out. "We had to scrap and adapt and our depth was tested," Smith said. "At times, we didn't bowl well. We hit our straps in this match and we got everything together. This was the performance that I have got used to in our guys over the years and it's important not to take that for granted."
Now, Smith believes South Africa are on course to create their own period of hegemony. They have already overcome one of the toughest hurdles and with assignments against New Zealand and Pakistan to follow at home, they see an opportunity to hold on to the mace for longer than some of their predecessors have. "This series was going to be the challenge for us to give ourselves the opportunity to lengthen that gap [at the top of the rankings] and create that legacy," Smith said.
The era may have already begun. South Africa have played ten Tests in 2012, nine away, and have not lost one. "I am extremely proud to be a part of the last nine matches. For us to win back-to-back Test series in England and Australia is an immense effort. You just have to look back and see how long it took us to get here. Now to be able to take that and play in front of our home fans will be great."