What began as a rout has ended as a contest. Yet, despite inspirational resistance from opener Gary Kirsten, Australia has still finished the Third Test against South Africa more than a day early, claiming a ten wicket win and the first series whitewash of the Proteas in 70 years.

The victory, predicated on the massive advantage of 400 runs that the home team had built on the first innings, arrived at 5:37pm. Therein, it crowned a three-match series which has featured Australia's near-relentless domination of a side thought to be its closest challenger in world cricket.

That said, today's was no easy stroll to victory. On another breathlessly warm day at the Sydney Cricket Ground, the Australians doubtlessly even felt the icy chill of ghosts from their past.

As Kirsten defied them with a magnificent 153 to not so much hold the South African top order together as to unthread the Australian bowling line-up, there was more than the odd passing resemblance to events at Kolkata ten months ago. And, as Shaun Pollock (61*) carted, thrashed and thulped balls into and over the fence to revive memories of a staunch last wicket partnership in the equivalent Test eight years back, it also prompted more than a fleeting sense of déjà vu.

Kirsten's outstanding vigil, which spanned 437 minutes and bridged five sessions, represented a masterpiece in resistance. He had been dropped at 12 yesterday; watched as each of five partners was lost to him at the other end; and had been forced to begin his innings with his team fronting great difficulty in even forcing Australia so much as to bat again.

Yet he summoned tremendous nerve and concentration to turn debacle into revival.

It was a measure of his centrality to the cause that the bottom began to fall from the innings as soon as he had dragged a flighted but wide ball from Stuart MacGill (4/123) back into his stumps. Mark Boucher (27) wafted airily at paceman Glenn McGrath (1/95) to edge a catch to wicketkeeper Adam Gilchrist; Nicky Boje (1) played over the top of a MacGill delivery to be bowled, and then Claude Henderson (2) was beaten through the gate by a classical MacGill wrong `un.

Having been piloted to a mark of 4/356 at one point, the South Africans' heads bowed and hearts sank as they proceeded to lose 5/47. The chests of the Australians swelled.

Yet there was still more resilience to follow. Australian captain Steve Waugh sent the field out to confine number eleven Allan Donald (2) to the strike; his opposite number Pollock responded by hitting over the top of it anyway. A run out opportunity was squandered, and umpire Daryl Harper denied a beseeching caught behind shout against Pollock, as the flow of the game remained with the batsmen.

It was impossible not to believe that the South Africans were already issuing the first shots in preparation for the return series that begins next month. If Donald hadn't suffered from the inexplicable rush of blood that somehow caused him to attempt to plant a Shane Warne (3/132) delivery into Randwick Racecourse, then Australia's will would have been further tested.

Australia's pacemen - Brett Lee (2/62) and McGrath - bowled with wholehearted commitment but discovered that the new-found steel in South Africa's batting was hard to overcome. The generally perpendicular angle of Kirsten's bat, the aggression of Pollock, and the docile character of the pitch all conspired heavily against them.

Lee was dangerous with the second new ball, crucially removing Neil McKenzie (38) before lunch as his attempt at working a delivery into the leg side resulted in the attainment of a leading edge and a lobbed catch to extra cover.

But it was only when Waugh turned to his leg spinners in the hour before tea that the match's destiny was finally settled. Having earlier gained the prized scalp of Jacques Kallis (34) as the talented right hander's attempt at a sweep toed the ball to Gilchrist, Warne's contribution was already looming as crucial.

When he returned to convince umpire Harper of the dubious merits of an lbw appeal against Justin Ontong (32) as the spirited youngster mistimed a sweep, he kickstarted South Africa's slide. Donald was later added to his list of victims.

Alas, the South African total could not be stretched further than 452 and the locals were left with a target of 53 to win. Not an onerous one when measured against the run-gathering standards of Justin Langer (30*) and Matthew Hayden (22*), the task was duly polished off in 44 minutes.

Later, Waugh paid tribute to the fighting qualities of the South Africans then proceeded to donate the entirety of the winners' prizemoney to the victims of bushfires that have caused devastation across Sydney in recent weeks.

The good-looking state of the scoreline was matched by his team's generosity.