A sparkling century by Riley Rossouw helped South Africa complete a comprehensive 5-0 whitewash against Australia, the world’s top-ranked side, as they claimed a handsome 31-run win at Newlands.
Australia had been set a mammoth 328 at a ground where the highest ever chase was 258 and despite heroics from David Warner (172) they were bowled out for 296 runs.
Such an ignominious score line was unprecedented for Australia, who managed to cling onto their spot at the top of the rankings by the narrow margin of two points.
With the historic series behind them, South Africa are hot on their heels in second place but neither side will play an ODI for some time as their next assignments are a four-Test series between the same two foes, which starts on 4 November in Perth.
Teams tend to bat first and enjoy an advantage at Newlands and it was no different as Faf du Plessis elected to bat on a mild afternoon at the world’s most picturesque ground, at the foot of Table Mountain.
The home side stuttered to 52 for three before a magnificent partnership between a sublime Rossouw (122 off 118 deliveries) and a resurgent JP Duminy (73 off 75) took the game away from the visitors.
The left-handed pair amassed 178 runs from 164 balls and made merry in the middle as Australia’s bowlers, the country's second string talent, were already demoralised by the hammering they have endured throughout this series.
Dave Miller (39) helped the Proteas’ over the 300-run marker as Chris Tremain (3-64) and Scott Boland (2-68) picked up consolation wickets.
However it must be said that Joe Mennie (3-49) had an impressive outing and was the pick of the bowlers as he helped keep the score from something nearer 350 and claimed the scalps of Hashim Amla (25), Faf du Plessis (11) and Duminy.
In reply, the openers were off to a smart start but a double strike by Imran Tahir (2-42) in the 14th over reduced Australia from 72 without loss to 72 for two.
Googlies from Tahir clean bowled each of Aaron Finch (19) and Steve Smith (0) during that double-wicket maiden. Andile Phehlukwayo (1-51) bowled George Bailey (2) three overs later and Australia were staring down the barrel with the score on 75 for three.
However David Warner (172 off 135), the top scorer in this series and the only Australian to consistently make meaningful contributions, had other ideas.
Mitch Marsh (35) helped him to fight back and then Travis Head (35) hung about for another 90 runs. Australia needed 99 runs from 10 overs with six wickets in hand before Head skied Abbott with a top edge that was safely held by ‘keeper Quinton de Kock.
The game plan of that partnership was obviously to get the number of runs needed to something under 100 and then to attack – another day it might have worked.
Matthew Wade (7) failed to contribute and then Warner was stranded with the tail with a big hundred next to his name. Mennie (0), Tremaine (0), Zampa (5) and Boland (4) were not going to help him over the line and Warner was tragically run out going for an unlikely two when 41 runs were needed from three overs.
This was an extraordinary series win for South Africa. Yes, the Australians were without their best bowlers but South Africa had injuries too. Captain AB De Villiers, Morne Morkel, Chris Morris and others were on that list.
Quinton de Kock got things off to a winning start at Centurion and then the Proteas became unstoppable with momentum behind them. The return to form of the likes of David Miller and JP Duminy was pleasing for the selectors and the success of the likes of Phehlukwayo and Rossouw will give those same administrators plenty to think about.
Du Plessis has looked a better captain than De Villiers and the emphatic whitewash of a disheartened Australian team is certainly one to savour.
South Africa certainly won’t find things so easy when they travel Down Under but one thing that is for certain is that coach Russell Domingo’s job is no longer on the line. Unlike in rugby, South African cricket is on the up once more.
By Nick Sadleir