Graeme Smith, the South Africa captain, has said that his team needed more runs in their second innings to push their opponents out of the game. South Africa were bowled out for 339, but it meant that Australia had to achieve the highest-successful chase at the Wanderers. Australia went on to score the required 310 to square the series, but they ended up scraping home by two wickets in a thriller.
"We were set up quite well after the AB [de Villiers]-Hashim [Amla] partnership and we needed to form one or two more partnerships that (fourth) morning," Smith said. "Losing four wickets in that session set us back. That was the time we really needed to put the knife in and make it count and take the Test out of their grasp but we didn't." South Africa lost all their remaining recognised batsmen - de Villiers, Amla, Ashwell Prince and Mark Boucher for just 29 runs, leaving their tail exposed to Australia's attack.
On the whole, it was a symptom of a greater concern that affected the team throughout the series: their inability to execute the knockout punch when they had Australia cowering near the ropes. "There were times when we could have kept our concentration levels up a little more and maybe capitalised on a really good position," Gary Kirsten, the South Africa coach, admitted. "There's an importance to getting into that position and then being able to concentrate through a longer period of time."
In their first innings, South Africa were set for a big total at 241 for 4. Six wickets tumbled for a mere 25 runs as they crashed to 266 all out. With the ball, they had Australia stuttering at 215 for 6, with 95 runs left to win, and allowed Brad Haddin and Mitchell Johnson to tug the advantage Australia's way.
Smith however felt the bowlers gave their best in defending the total. "I thought we bowled well today in particular, especially that two and a half hour session upfront," he said. "We asked a lot of questions and we beat the bat a lot."
Both Michael Clarke and Michael Hussey had been dismissed before tea, leaving South Africa in a fairly commanding position. With conditions remaining seamer-friendly till the end, Smith banked on swing bowler Dale Steyn and rookie Vernon Philander to finish the job. Philander looked to cap off a dream first series in Test cricket, after taking a five-wicket haul for the second time in as many matches.
He threatened throughout and proved his enormous progress in the last two seasons of first-class cricket. The conditions were hardly alien to him as he made use of seam movement. "All surfaces are conducive to me," Philander said. "I rely on good line and length on the fourth stump and so I can nip it away or nip it back. That comes into play on most wickets all over the world."
When even that could not clip off the tail, Smith turned to legspinner Imran Tahir in the final overs with Australia needing just five to win, in a moment of innovation not seen before in South African cricket. "I knew it was a brave call," Smith said. "I felt [Patrick] Cummins had stood up quite well to the pace and I felt there was an opportunity for Imran. It would have been a wonderful story for him and for us and he almost did it."
Tahir had an lbw shout against Cummins that was ruled not out which was reviewed. Replays showed he was struck outside the line of offstump and the decision stayed with the umpire. "Umpire's call is a pretty marginal thing these days," Smith said. "It was a gut feel to use Imran. I was thinking about it for three overs, it took me a few overs to get there."
For Smith, South Africa's major concern is the ability to close out a game, which, if they had done this time would have given them their first home series win against Australia since readmission. "We certainly had our opportunities to take the game away from Australia," he said. "We have to take responsibility."
Kirsten, however, reflected on the positives. "Both sides let it slip and pulled it back brilliantly," Kirsten said. "The one thing I have been impressed by is the resilience of this team. We showed that we could pull it back."