South Africa are just one win away from becoming the best Test side in the world after condemning Australia to a first series defeat on home soil in almost 16 years following a nine-wicket victory in the second Test here in Melbourne yesterday.
The Proteas, led by a fluent 75 from their captain, Graeme Smith, reached a modest target of 183 for the loss of only one wicket on the final day to take an unassailable 2-0 lead and seal a first-ever Test series triumph in Australia. Victory in the third Test, starting in Sydney on Friday, will take them to the top of the world rankings.
Hashim Amla, a man not bearing scars from previous defeats to the hosts, stroked the winning runs shortly after lunch as South Africa became the first team to overcome Australia at home since the West Indies in 1992-93. That was also the last occasion Australia lost back-to-back Tests at home.
Smith described his team's historic series triumph as "the greatest moment in South African cricket. It's got to be the best," he said. "It's got to be the most incredible season South African cricket has ever had. I don't think anyone would argue with that. The balance of power is evening out in world cricket. Maybe other teams are moving into other eras, who knows?"
South Africa were never under any pressure in their run chase. Australia, needing a flurry of wickets early on the final day to have any hope of winning, did not make a breakthrough until 16 minutes before lunch when Smith was trapped lbw by Nathan Hauritz.
Smith had dominated a 121-run opening stand with Neil McKenzie and it was a shame for him that he was not there at the end after he had once again shown the kind of leadership befitting a man who was made captain of his country at the age of 22.
He cashed in on Australia's attacking approach, striking seven of his 10 boundaries with cuts and deflections through a vacant third man region. However, Smith was unexpectedly the first to go as McKenzie had appeared the most vulnerable of the pair.
While unconvincing, McKenzie – who had made scores of two, 10 and zero in his three most recent innings – dug in and managed to eke out an unbeaten 59. He survived strong leg before shouts from the fast bowler Brett Lee, who was bowling despite nursing an injured foot that will keep him out of the Sydney Test, and Mitchell Johnson.
Buried Down Under: Australia laid to rest
'RIP Australian cricket'
The Sydney Daily Telegraph
"The echo of the ball flying off Hashim Amla's bat yesterday was the death rattle of Australia's 16 years without a home loss."
'Smith trumpets new world order'
The Herald Sun
"South Africa is Test cricket's new top dog."
'Hayden survives MCG wreckage'
"Matthew Hayden continues to enjoy the unequivocal support of the selectors and captain."
MCG scoreboard and Ashes build-up
Second Test: Australia v South Africa
Final day of five: South Africa won by nine wickets.
Australia won toss
Australia – First Innings 394 (R T Ponting 101, M J Clarke 88no, S M Katich 54; D W Steyn 5-87).
South Africa First Innings 459 (J P Duminy 166, D W Steyn 76, G C Smith 62; P M Siddle 4-81).
Australia – Second Innings 247 (R T Ponting 99; D W Steyn 5-67).
South Africa – Second Innings (Overnight: 30 for 0)
*G C Smith lbw b Hauritz 75
N D McKenzie not out 59
H M Amla not out 30
Extras (lb9 w2 nb8) 19
Total (for 1, 48 overs) 183
Did not bat: J H Kallis, A B de Villiers, J P Duminy, †M V Boucher, M Morkel, P L Harris, D W Steyn, M Ntini.
Bowling: Lee 10-0-49-0; Siddle 14-5-34-0; Johnson 11-1-36-0; Hauritz 10-0-41-1; Clarke 3-0-14-0.
Umpires: Aleem Dar (Pak) and B R Doctrove (WI).
South Africa lead three-match series 2-0.
Australia's build-up to The Ashes
South Africa in Australia: Third Test, Sydney 3-7 Jan 2009
Australia in South Africa: First Test, Johannesburg 26 February-2 March, Second Test, Durban 6-10 March, Third Test, Cape Town 19-23 March
The Ashes: First Test v England, Cardiff 8-12 July