When Transvaal inflicted the first defeat on an Australian visiting team in the third match of the tour, the South African public scented possible victory in the series.
Their appetite had been whetted by a meritorious division of spoils in Australia in 1963-64 and again during the short tour of England in 1965 when, for the first time in thirty years, South Africa won the rubber.
Graeme Pollock had forced his way to the top flight of international stars on a solid foundation as the youngest century and double century maker in the country's history. At the same time Colin Bland, the tall athletic Rhodesian, had acquired a public and T.V. image as one of the world's greatest fieldsmen.
This optimism was dampened somewhat by the heavy defeats inflicted on both Eastern and Western Province, but Goddard's South African XI restored the balance at East London, where the Australian colours were lowered a second time before the series began.
For some inexplicable reason the visitors were just not finding their touch, although one wondered whether, in typical Australian fashion, they were content to play within themselves and gradually work towards peak form at the psychological stage of the tour. Victory over Natal, the Currie Cup champions, on the eve of the first Test lent strength to that argument and the series opened at the Wanderers with the betting at evens.
On this ground a new star was born. Denis Lindsay, successor to Waite, who so ably represented South Africa in 50 Tests and gained distinction as a wicket-keeper batsman of world class, blossomed as an aggressive attacking force, scoring three centuries and an aggregate of 606 runs to register the highest individual contribution by any wicket-keeper in a series of international cricket.
In addition, without quite matching the skill of his predecessor, Lindsay held 24 catches as his quota towards South Africa's history-making achievement. They beat Australia for the first time on South African soil and went on to win the rubber.
The left-hander Pollock confirmed his standing as the best 23-year-old batsman in Test cricket. The impact he made in Australia and the United Kingdom was re-emphasised during a fantastic innings of 209 at Newlands, where he virtually carried his side for six hours.
His 90 in the first Test was, however, acclaimed the real masterpiece, and the young maestro concluded the series at Port Elizabeth, as he began it, with another century and 33 not out, being so completely in command of the situation that the message to the 1968-69 M.C.C. team could not possibly be misinterpreted.
The merit of South Africa's victory left no doubt as to the Springboks' superiority and had it not been for a pathetic twist of fate, with the curtain falling within sight of certain victory in the fourth Test, the margin would have been 4-1.
Goddard, the former Springbok captain and leading all-rounder, worried all the Australian batsmen and his crop of 26 cheap wickets was the major contribution in an attack in which pace and seam dominated proceedings.
Contrary to expectations, the Australian batting proved brittle against this type of bowling. Two new caps, Procter and Trimborn, were in the same category, but the third -- Du Preez of Rhodesia -- an intriguing prospect, was the first genuine leg-spinner to gain inclusion since the days of P.N.F. Mansell and V.I. Smith.
By way of contrast, the Australian spinners accounted for 27 wickets, although McKenzie, who increased his tally of Test wickets to 161, was the outstanding bowler of the series.
It was difficult to pinpoint the reason for the Australians' fall from grace. Simpson, despite criticism from certain quarters, could not be faulted on the grounds of leadership or performance.
His team contained a wealth of talent who rarely produced their known form. Of the five players new to Test cricket, Taber, the wicket-keeper, alone made considerable progress. The others failed, although in the coming season they mall well reap the rewards of tour experience.
This undoubtedly lessened Simpson's striking power and the lion-hearted McKenzie was frequently compelled to fight a lone battle. In many respects the attack was the weakest ever to represent Australia in South Africa. Hawke, for example, a bowler of world class, was but a shadow of the force we know him to be, and Veivers, selected as their leading off-spinner, captured only five wickets in 213 overs.
Lawry, an opening batsman with a tremendous reputation, never got going and Thomas, of whom so much was expected, did not remotely resemble the man who did so well against the West Indies. Cowper, despite his 1,116 runs on the tour, and Stackpole, fresh from a season in England, disappointed. Nor could Watson, by any stretch of imagination, be considered a worthy replacement for K.D. Walters, who missed the tour owing to his call-up for Army service.
A feature of the innings of both teams was the inexplicable batting collapses. Invariably the Springboks made a disastrous start only for the wreck to be salvaged by the lower half of the order. On at least four occasions face-saving century partnerships by Lindsay, and either Lance or Van der Merwe, caused the Australian attack to lose penetration at the psychological moment.
Simpson's team, regardless of the value of the early batting, regularly maintained a six or seven-man tail and no international team could afford that luxury and hope to survive. South African cricket reached an all-time high and although Van der Merwe and several of his colleagues have now played their last Test, the country's resources are such that the sides should be evenly matched when England tour in 1968-69.
First-Class Matches -- Played 17, Won 7, Lost 5, Drawn 5.
All Matches -- Played 23, Won 11, Lost 5, Drawn 7.
Test Matches -- Played 5, Won 1, Lost 3, Drawn 1.