Their fingers never far from the self-destruct button on what has been a harrowing five-week tour, South Africa tumbled to another comprehensive defeat, this time by 10 wickets, as Australia swept to a 3-0 series whitewash at the Sydney Cricket Ground yesterday. The chasm between No 1 and No 2 in the world is as wide as the Outback.
Gary Kirsten's fighting 153, ended after 437 minutes of resistance by Stuart MacGill, ensured the South Africans were able to ask the Australians to bat for a second time, the magnificent opening pair of Justin Langer (30) and Matthew Hayden (21) knocking off the required 53 runs for victory in 10.1 overs.
The winning margins told the story of the difference between the two sides: 246 runs, nine wickets and 10 wickets, with only the First Test reaching the fifth day as Australia achieved a a first series clean sweep over their rivals since 1931-32.
Vanquished captain Shaun Pollock, unbeaten on 61 as the South African innings closed on 452, pointed to the openers as the "major difference between the sides". "They set the platform for the others guys to come in and play with freedom," he said of a combination who shared double-century partnerships in each of the three Tests and included five individual hundreds.
Steve Waugh, the Australian captain, went even further in his praise of Hayden. "He's playing as well as anybody's probably ever played the game. He's in complete control. I can't imagine anyone playing better than him. But I didn't see Bradman play, so, probably excluding the Don."
Despite the one-sided nature of the series, which now takes in a triangular limited-overs tournament also featuring New Zealand, before three Tests in South Africa, there is compelling evidence that the tourists were hampered by off-field wrangling.
The president of the United Cricket Board, Percy Sonn, faces an internal grilling on his return to South Africa for saying that disgraced former national captain Hansie Cronje, banned for life by the ICC and UCB, "has a future in the game". Sonn also over-ruled the selectors' decision to include 20-year-old top-order batsman Jacques Rudolph in the final Test; he insisted a second player of colour (the debutant Justin Ontong) be included in the starting XI.
There had also been criticism from the Sports ministry of the dropping of Makhaya Ntini, a black player, while another out-of-form bowler, Lance Klusener, was retained for the Second Test.
And former captain Clive Rice was accused as a cricketer who "benefited immensely from apartheid cricket in the past". This came after the sports minister appeared on television and identified former national players Pat Symcox, Graeme Pollock, Fanie de Villiers, Pat Jennings and Rice as the main culprits in perpetuating the racial divide in the cricket fraternity through the media.
Sources within the camp also point to an alleged dressing room incident during the First Test, when Graeme Pollock is said to have confronted his nephew, with heated words being exchanged in full view of the players.
In crime-torn South Africa, the knives were out in full public view. De Villiers, who bowled Australia out for 111 in a dramatic five-run victory in Adelaide in 1994, felt that both Pollock and Ntini were victims of poor coaching.
However, Pollock played a straight bat. "Obviously it probably would have been less disruptive if it had gone a bit more smoothly but that's in the past. That didn't affect the way we played. You walk out, you've got your 11 and that's the 11 you're playing with."
However, Pollock has a tough task regrouping his players. "We'll be back," he said," echoing Springbok rugby coach Harry Viljoen's statement that "we'll fight back like hell", after defeat to England at Twickenham. In South Africa it is felt it might take another "Suzie the waitress" episode, the infamous "poisoning of the All Blacks" on the eve of the 1995 Rugby World Cup final, to rescue fortunes. One suspects the South African public might even accept that route to victory over this fine Australian team.Reuse content