Striking the ball with clean, thunderous power, the country's most popular cricketer demolished the weary West Indies bowling, minus its injured leader, Courtney Walsh, and thrilled a record capacity crowd of 17,500 at Centurion Park with eight fours and six pulled sixes, the last off his 95th ball from the off-spinner, Carl Hooper, that carried him to 103, his third century in his 41st Test.
The left-hander Lance Klusener's whirlwind unbeaten 102 against India at Cape Town two seasons back, that required five balls more, had been South Africa's previous standard for a rapid-fire Test century.
With a superfluous lead of 568, South Africa's captain, Hansie Cronje, immediately declared his second innings at 399 for 5. The opener Gary Kirsten had earlier helped himself to his eighth hundred in 50 Tests, a patient 134 spanning seven and a half hours and 305 balls.
It left his bowlers with 10 overs and two days to complete South Africa's cherished goal of the first 5-0 whitewash the West Indies would have ever suffered in a series. Immediately, Allan Donald removed Philo Wallace to a fine leg-side deflection to the wicket-keeper, and the West Indies limped to the close at 18 for 1.
Bounding out at Cronje's dismissal in the middle of another burning hot afternoon like a greyhound from the traps, Rhodes immediately set about raising the momentum in an effort to hasten the declaration. In a jiffy, the more pressing consideration was his individual landmark.
His fourth scoring stroke was a hook for six off the pacy Nixon McLean. After that he did much as he pleased, outscoring his two partners, Kirsten and Shaun Pollock, by 103 to 32 in the 104 minutes he was at the wicket.
He made a mockery of Brian Lara's tactic of setting three men back on the ropes between square leg and fine leg for McLean's bouncers, three times hooking him for six and three times for four. Only once did he not connect with the middle of the bat, but the substitute, Rawl Lewis, could not quite complete a sensational catch, parrying the ball over the boundary in the process.
The assault threw the West Indies into a state of confusion. With Hooper operating exclusively from one end before lunch, while McLean and the two younger fast bowlers, Merv Dillon and Reon King, came from the other, they restricted the scoring to 74 from 34 overs in the first session for the wickets of Jaques Kallis, caught sweeping Hooper, and Daryl Cullinan, taken at point off a lifter from Dillon. The remainder of the innings yielded 229 off 46.3 overs.
Cronje himself provided the initial acceleration with a huge six over long-on off Hooper that kick-started an innings of 58 off 105 balls and a stand of 107 in two hours with Kirsten.
Cronje's hook off McLean that produced a catch at deep square leg possibly influenced Lara's later misguided tactic against the ebullient Rhodes, who thrived on it. It was not the first error of judgement the West Indies captain has made in what has been a nightmare series for him and his team.
Scoreboard, Digest, page 20