Still ICC Test ChampionsPhoto Reuters
Tipped just three months ago as the side most likely to unseat world Test champions Australia, South Africa crashed to the second biggest defeat of all time, losing the first Castle Lager/MTN Test match at the Wanderers by an innings and 360 runs to Steve Waugh's team on Sunday.
It took less than three days and it was South Africa's heaviest defeat and it underlined the yawning gap between the two sides that had opened up over three Tests in Australia in December and January.
"We've proven a few things over these four Test matches," said Waugh, who noted that his side had been called too old to hang onto their Test crown. "There's a bit of life left in us yet."
Waugh said that his side had played "superb cricket" and that "we've got some excellent cricketers", but this hardly explains South Africa's abject capitulation. South Africa were, admittedly, without captain Shaun Pollock and they lost Allan Donald on the first day, but they fell apart on Sunday, crumbling to 159 and 133 in under 87 overs on the same pitch that had produced 652 for seven for Australia.
Gilchrist - an innings to rememberPhoto Peter Heeger
The result and the manner of it will resonate throughout South African cricket, calling into question the structures and policies that govern the game in this country. This Test match may yet prove to be a watershed in the history of the game in South Africa. If nothing else, it will provide cause for deep soul-searching.
South Africa were destroyed by a slick, well-organised team at the top of their game. This much was admitted by stand-in captain Mark Boucher afterwards. "I think Australia are a better side than us," conceded Boucher.
Resuming at 111 for four on Sunday morning, South Africa's first innings ended before lunch when Andre Nel fell lbw to Shane Warne. Ashwell Prince, who had been 47 overnight, failed by one run to make a 50 on debut as Australia's four-pronged attack shared out the wickets between them.
In the light of what was to follow, 159 began to look like a reasonable effort. Gary Kirsten went quickly in the second innings, Prince and Herschelle Gibbs put on 66 for the second wicket and then Warne and Glenn McGrath took the last nine wickets for 47 in 15 overs.
Warne took four of them for 44 and McGrath, who took three in four balls at one stage, finished with five for 21. The last six batsmen in the South African order contributed exactly seven runs.
By general agreement this was not particularly easy Wanderers pitch to bat on. Australia's massive total, Boucher, Warne and Steve Waugh all agreed, owed at least something to the fact that South Africa had bowled poorly on the first day.
It was a match of landmarks, at least for Australia. Adam Gilchrist's double century was the fasted scored off balls faced in Test cricket while Warne's third wicket took him into second place on the Test match wicket-takers list. He now has 436 and only Courtney Walsh, with 519 is ahead of him.
Warne has lost 8 kg in the past few weeks by giving up "pizzas, beers, vanilla slices, chips and potato chips". He survives now, apparently, on "cereal, baked beans and water".
Quite what South Africa need to give up is unclear. Only Prince, who made 49 and 28, and Makhaya Ntini emerged with any sort of credit from this match. Although Gibbs scored 34 and 47, he seldom suggested any sort of permanence while Jacques Kallis had his worst Test match for his country, dropping both Matthew Hayden and Gilchrist, taking two for 116 and scoring 3 and 8.
The South African selectors meet on Monday to pick a South Africa `A' team to play Australia in Port Elizabeth next weekend. Changes will have to be made to the South African Test team - a recall for Daryll Cullinan now seems likely - but whether South Africa can turn around what has become a one-horse race seems doubtful in the extreme.