A draw in the first Test, in Perth, was somewhat cathartic for Jacques Rudolph. He scored an unbeaten century after being left out of the XI in all three matches of the previous visit because of a change in selection policy. But South Africa lost the next two Tests and returned home empty-handed again.
By the time they made the trip four seasons later, South Africa were a team transformed. They had beaten England for the first time since readmission and went to Australia with a fresh mindset. There was not the excitement of 1993, or the false bravado of 2001, but a quiet confidence in their plans.
The tour didn't begin well, though, when a day before the first Test, Ashwell Prince, who had made two centuries in England and was a core part of South Africa's middle order, injured his thumb in the nets. Losing him was a big blow, especially because his replacement, JP Duminy, was a rookie.
"I was in the field catching for Paul Harris and I didn't really bat much that day, because the playing XI got preference, when Mickey [Arthur] rushed over and said Ashwell had got hit," Duminy said. "Mickey said I've got to get into the nets and prepare."
Duminy had a "sleepless night", but when his phone buzzed early the next morning he knew what was coming. "Ashwell SMS-ed me at 6 o'clock to say he didn't think he was going to be able to play, and he wished all the best to me, which was quite nice from his side."
Australia took a first-innings lead of 94, and Mitchell Johnson, who took 8 for 61, was looking dangerous. One of Johnson's wickets was that of Duminy, although the South African batsman maintains he wasn't out. "I got a bouncer from Johnson, was hit on the arm and got given out. So I was a little disappointed."
The short ball would go on to become Duminy's nemesis further in his Test career, but only after his heroics in Perth and Melbourne.
Australia scored 319 in their second innings, and even though none of their batsmen made hundreds in the match, they set South Africa 414 to win. It required a near-world-record chase*, and few thought South Africa could do it, given their reputation as chokers.
Opener Neil McKenzie fell to Johnson for 10, but Graeme Smith added to his enormous pile of second-innings runs in successful chases with a stoic century, and Hashim Amla and Jacques Kallis contributed fifties. On a fifth-day pitch that was as good as a third-day one, South Africa inched closer.
With Kallis and AB de Villiers at the crease, they had the right mix of experience and aggression, but when Kallis was dismissed with South Africa still needing 111, the responsibility fell on young Duminy.
"I was walking out and Kallis said to me as we passed each other, 'Go make history.' It's something that I've always remembered, because that's what it was. It was history in the making and it was a special effort from our side."
"I was walking out and Kallis said to me as we passed each other, 'Go make history.' It's something that I've always remembered"
Displaying remarkable clarity of mind and control, Duminy crafted a fine fifty and hit the winning runs. At no stage did he think South Africa would not get there. "We had six wickets in hand, the pitch was playing very well and AB was going well too. I thought we had the upper hand. I suppose, on the plus side, we didn't lose any more wickets."
The victory represented more than just an odds-defying achievement. A series lead had been taken over the old enemy. "Going up 1-0 against Australia gave us the belief that we can chase down anything and that we can beat the Aussies in Australia," de Villiers said. "That was a massive mental thing for us to get over."
Come Boxing Day, however, tension had mounted to the point of exploding. Ricky Ponting's century was offset by the South African pace trio's wickets, and Australia went to stumps at 280 for 6. On day two, Michael Clarke and the tail added another 114 runs, after which the Australian bowlers stuck into South Africa.
With his side on 132 for 5, Duminy was presented with a different kind of pressure from that in Perth. His team's hope that he could be like Prince and drag them out of trouble, his own uncertainty about his position and his game plan all weighed him down.
"Leading up to that second game, I still wasn't sure if I would play, because Ashwell was getting a lot of rehabilitation. There was still a chance of him playing, so I wasn't sure where I stood until fairly late again. I just took the opportunity that arose. The team was in a bit of trouble when I went in to bat and I just took it ball by ball. Initially it was a little bit difficult, but it was just about absorbing that pressure."
Duminy lost partners steadily, though, and when Dale Steyn walked in at No. 10, South Africa were still 143 runs behind. "The partnership with Dale stands out because of the way he went about his business, Duminy said. "He was getting hit quite a few times on the body and [there were] one or two dropped catches." Johnson struck Steyn on the left hand, Ponting dropped him at second slip, Michael Hussey at mid-on, and Nathan Hauritz off his own bowling. Steyn went on to score a career-best 76.
Duminy accelerated at all the right moments - when the Australian seamers were tired and when Steyn was able to hold his own. When he got to his hundred, Duminy leaped up and punched the air. Mark Nicholas, on commentary, exclaimed, "You beauty, you superstar".
Duminy was finally dismissed for 166 and South Africa on 459. The lead of 65 was worth far more because of the psychological blows they had dealt Australia.
Ponting led the reply with 99, but when South Africa were set only 183 to win, Australia's series defeat was inevitable. Duminy did not have to bat again but there was no doubt that he was the architect of South Africa's series win. "We had a team huddle and a meeting on the field, and a few guys spoke. There were definitely emotions around and we made memories I will always hold close," Duminy said.
South Africa were the first team to beat Australia at home in 16 years. That it came down to a player who would not even have featured in the series seemed to make it more special. De Villiers pointed out that the bowlers' contributions were vital as well. "JP's innings in Melbourne was special, but also the way our bowlers came to the party." Steyn took ten wickets and his all-round performance earned him the Man-of-the-Match award.
Australia pulled back a victory in Sydney but the Test is better remembered for Graeme Smith batting with a broken hand. He was given a thunderous standing ovation - an affirmation that he is one of the great captains of the game.
The bulk of that 2008-09 South African squad are now back in Australia for more, and they hope to achieve the double - winning in England and Australia in the same year - again.
This time, Steyn said, they are better prepared than before. "The last time, I wasn't as prepared for how difficult the cricket was going to be or for the crowd's abuse. This time I know what to expect." But there is also the burden of expectations, which Duminy hopes they can shake off quickly. "Whatever happened four years ago is in the past. It's about making new memories this time. The only difference is that we've come here now expecting to win, because we are the No. 1 Test team."
08:41:13 GMT, 6 November 2012: Corrected from "world-record chase"