Ultimately, South Africa were beaten by 184 runs soon after lunch on a baking fifth day. Without ever looking his old self, Glenn McGrath took the last few wickets while Shane Warne had to be content with a single contentious scalp. After numerous sustained appeals, the leg-spinner finally managed to coax a favourable decision from Asad Rauf, an umpire with considerable experience as a first-class cricketer. Overall, the Pakistani had a fine match but towards the end he began to doubt himself. It was a tough game played on a spinning pitch with men huddled around the bat.
Previously stoic in his rejection of unduly long appeals, Rauf finally wilted and sent Ashwell Prince on his way, though the gritty left-hander had clearly missed the ball. All summer the Australians have been over-appealing but the match referees had refused to protect their umpires, and the Proteas coach, Mickey Arthur, was quick to point the finger at Warne.
"They do put pressure on the umpires. They're masters at it," Arthur said. "Especially Warney. I guess he has an aura about him."
In reply, Ricky Ponting, the home captain, encapsulated the spiky nature of this Test series. "It's just another niggly little thing that they are trying to have a go at us about," he said. "We are out there just appealing every time we think something is out.
"Shane [Warne] is bowling around the wicket and they aren't playing shots. Soon enough there will be a chance it will hit the stumps. I wouldn't say there has been over-appealing whatsoever from our team."
Not that the visitors deserved a draw. Dropped catches and dubious tactics let Australia off the hook in their first innings and thereafter the match followed a predictable path. South Africa's weak points were exposed, especially a shaky middle order and a lame spin attack. Injuries to Makhaya Ntini and Justin Kemp did not help. Ntini will return home with a dodgy knee. Johan Botha has been summoned to strengthen the spin department. He is nicknamed "Harbhajan", a tribute to his doosra, a delivery whose discovery persuaded him to switch to spin two years ago.
Australia outclassed their opponents. Hussey was the most influential player in the match. His ability to play exactly the right strokes at the right time has seldom been surpassed. On the rampage, he does not so much pin his ears back as widen his range of interests. Ponting's bowlers also served with distinction. By hook or by crook the selectors have brought together an attack that combines penetration and variety. Obviously, it helped that the ball swung more than has lately been the case. In recent years swing has featured about as much on cricket fields as in the discotheques frequented by hair-fringed youths and ageing leg-spinners.
Lee and Symonds curled the ball further than any opponent except Jacques Kallis, an engine in need of oil. Lee moved the leather in both directions at high pace whilst his colleague indicated his abilities by sending down outswingers with the red cherry and off-cutters with the old missile.
Not every local had a productive match. The time has come to give Adam Gilchrist a rest. Better still, he could be advised to concentrate on Test cricket.
Australia deserved to win. McGrath's batting confirmed that the hosts have a dimension beyond these visitors, an ability to raise their games when the battle is at its highest pitch. Langer returns for the new year Test in Sydney where the hosts will be hard to beat.
Final day of five; Australia won toss
Australia - First Innings 355 (M E K Hussey 122, R T Ponting 117, M L Hayden 65; A Nel 4-84).
South Africa - First Innings 311 (H H Gibbs 94, A B de Villiers 61).
Australia - Second Innings 321 for 7 dec (M L Hayden 137, A Symonds 72).
South Africa - Second Innings
(Overnight: 99 for 6)
A G Prince c Hayden b Warne 26
S M Pollock not out 67
N Boje b McGrath 13
A Nel c Gilchrist b McGrath 2
M Ntini b MacGill 2
Extras (lb6 w1 nb4) 11
Total (74 overs) 181
Fall (cont): 7-130 8-166 9-178.
Bowling: McGrath 15-3-44-3; Lee 11-4-23-0; Warne 28-7-74-4; Symonds 4-2-6-2; MacGill 16-7-28-1.
Umpires: Asad Rauf (Pak) and S A Bucknor (WI).