South Africa's valiant effort to scrape a drawn Test with Australia ended in dramatic failure as they were bowled out for 265 with just 27 balls left on captain Graeme Smith's last day in Test cricket here.
Yet for a long time it seemed that for the third time in recent years South Africa's resolute defence would save a Test, and in this case a series, that seemed to be heading inexorably into the hands of the opposition.
South Africa began the final day's play needing an impossible 440 runs to win. Australia required just six wickets in 98 overs. Yet each batsman dug in grittily in Cape Town and as the day wore on the seemingly impossible seemed possible.
Throughout the day Ryan Harris, Mitchell Johnson and James Pattinson had bowled well but failed to attack the stumps sufficiently, while spinner Nathan Lyon proved strangely ineffective.
A B De Villiers used up a precious five hours 26 minutes and 228 balls for his 43, while Faf du Plessis ground out yet another fighting display before being trapped lbw by Steve Smith, having lasted two hours 37 minutes and 109 balls for his 47. Then JP Duminy, on 51 after two hours 49 minutes, flicked at a ball to a perfectly positioned Lyon at leg slip.
At 245 for 8 South Africa had the task of surviving 20 overs without losing more than one wicket. Although Dale Steyn had been unable to deliver more than 13 overs in two innings after straining a hamstring, he had wielded the willow well in a lowly first-innings total, scoring 28.
This pulsating series deserved a fitting drama to end a three-act classic. And that's what transpired.
With Vernon Philander on 45 and just over 15 overs remaining, a ball from Johnson reared into – or maybe just missed – the South African's glove or bat handle. He was given out, but after seemingly endless replays the decision was reversed, to huge cheers from the majority of a rapidly-filling stadium.
The Australia captain, Michael Clarke, and Steyn had a nasty altercation about it and had to be separated. And an hour and 15 minutes into the Steyn and Philander resistance, the visitors looked disconsolate.
Yet with five overs left Clarke turned to Harris. He will undergo knee surgery after this series and with an uncertain recovery and at the age of 34 may have been playing his last Test. Yet his first ball did the trick. A perfect yorker sneaked under Steyn's bat and flicked the stumps.
In came the gangling Morne Morkel. The end was nigh and within two balls his stumps lay shattered, providing Harris with figures of 4 for 32 and Australia with a 245-run winning margin after declaring in both innings.
The defeated Smith had not expected to hear the exultant sounds, from hoarse visiting fans, of "Waltzing Matilda" ringing around Newlands as he departed the international cricket scene.
A banner reading "Thank you Captain Courageous" stretched across a grandstand as the 33-year-old bade an emotional farewell.
He said he was proud his team's "strength of character" had kept them in the series until the last hour, adding he had retired as "I didn't want to hang on. That decision took some courage".
Clarke, meanwhile, said the series had been a showdown between "two extremely passionate teams", summing it all up with the proclamation: "What a day. What a match. What a series."Reuse content