Graeme Smith and his South Africa lineup were ruthless in taking the third test and the series away from Australia. So ruthless, even Ricky Ponting admitted he hadn't encountered anything like it in his 168 tests for Australia.
The South Africans bowled Australia out for 322 late Monday to rubber stamp a victory by 309 runs with a day to spare, clinching back-to-back test series triumphs here for the first time, retaining the No. 1 ranking and sending Ponting into international retirement with a defeat he'll never forget.
It was all set up on day two in Perth, when Dale Steyn made a belated impact on the series with a four-wicket haul to help dismiss Australia for 163 and then Smith (84), Hashim Amla (196) and AB de Villiers (169) combined to clobber the Australian bowlers for 206 runs in one session to ram home the advantage.
That all came after Faf du Plessis helped South Africa recover from 75-6 on day one on a fast, bouncy WACA pitch to reach 225 in the first innings, only four days after he'd batted the entire last day of the second test to salvage an unlikely draw in Adelaide so that both teams came to Perth on an even footing.
"The cricket they played day two, with the ball first and foremost and with the bat in the afternoon, that was them trying to impose themselves on the series and they did it better than I have ever seen any team take a game away from an opposition before," Ponting said. "A lot of other teams we have played against over the years in a position like that have been too scared to do that and push the game forward. "What they did was a sign they had total belief in what they were doing ... They thoroughly deserved to walk away and be the winners of this series."
Smith agreed that the second day in Perth "has got to go down as one of the highlights of South African cricket." "The way we bowled and the way we batted to take the game away from Australia and then to follow that up on day three," he said. "Then today to take 10 wickets and put our marker firmly down in Australia was special."
The No. 1 ranking was at stake in the third test, where a loss for top-ranked South Africa could have allowed Australia to get back to the peak. Australia had the better of the first two drawn tests in Brisbane and Adelaide, failing by just two wickets to force a win in the second match. But it was the South Africans who finished the year unbeaten with five test wins and five draws — including back-to-back away series wins in England and Australia.
"It hasn't been the perfect series, we've had injuries and not everything has gone according to plan as it did in England," Smith said. "We had to scrap and adapt and test our depth. And at times we haven't bowled well but we certainly hit our straps in this test match, I thought we were superb, we got everything together. "This is the performance I've been used to over the years from our guys but it's important not to take it for granted."
What he did take for granted was a genuine acknowledgement of the mark Ponting has made on the game, leaving as the second-highest runscorer behind Sachin Tendulkar and as the most capped Australian player with Steve Waugh.
A guard of honor the South Africans formed for Ponting as he strode to the wicket on Monday in his last test innings was also something that took the ex-Australia skipper by surprise. As he paused, coughed and held back tears while thanking his family and supporters in a post-match news conference, Ponting said that gesture from the South Africans would be something he'd cherish.
Australia captain Clarke, who scored two double centuries in the series but was out for 44 on Monday, said the way South Africa approached the match was a lesson for all cricket teams. "This test showed why they're the No.1 team in the world," Clarke said. Adelaide "took it out of us mentally, physically. South Africa deserve a lot of credit. "It was just unfortunate we couldn't get over the line in the first two test matches, and I think in this test we got outplayed."
South Africa had batted Australia out of the match by midway through the test Sunday, but Smith refused to declare the innings and the tourists were eventually bowled out for 569 — a massive 631-run advantage. No team had ever scored more than 418 in the fourth innings to win a test match.
Australia resumed at 40 without loss on Monday and it all went downhill from the second ball, when David Warner (29) was dismissed by Vernon Philander. Morne Morkel removed Shane Watson (25), bringing Ponting to the crease at 11:47 a.m. local time.
He lasted 40 minutes before edging left-arm spinner Robin Peterson to Jacques Kallis at slip and was out for 8 — two boundaries — and left to a standing ovation and a sign on the electronic scoreboard that read "Thanks Ricky."
Peterson then removed Clarke (44) between lunch and tea and wickets fell quickly until a late cameo by No. 10 Mitch Starc (68 not out), who combined with John Hastings (20) to ensure Australia avoided its second-worst test loss in terms of runs — a 408-run defeat to the West Indies in 1980 — and an 87-run last-wicket stand with Nathan Lyon (31) to delay the inevitable.
There's a huge gulf in rankings points now between the rest of the world and the South Africans, who don't play another test until a two-match home series against New Zealand in the New Year. Australia is back at work next week, starting the post-Ponting era in Hobart with the opening match of a three-test series against Sri Lanka.
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from Associated Press
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