As the lights dim on the compelling Test series between Australia and South Africa - won 2-1 by the visitors - the reality is that Graeme Smith's Proteas are, finally and demonstrably, the "dream team".
Black and white mix has got colour
As the lights dim on the compelling Test series between Australia and South Africa - won 2-1 by the visitors - the reality is that Graeme Smith's Proteas are, finally and demonstrably, the "dream team". For the first time, the team reflected all the hues of South Africa - and all South Africans celebrated. There was a coloured, an Indian, a Xhosa, Afrikaners and Englishmen in the starting XI; a rainbow mix indeed. These things may not matter to most in the modern world, but to race-conscious South Africa, it matters a great deal.
The Proteas have struggled since the early 1990s with transformation - "be patient, it will come", pleaded anxious administrators - so to have rattled the world's No 1 Test team with a truly representative team is a seminal moment. Indeed, Jacques Kallis ranked it among the best. "This means more to me than all of those individual highs," he said. "Winning a Test series in Australia is as big, if not bigger, than winning the World Cup."
The series win, the first in Australia by South Africa, and the hosts' first series defeat at home in 16 years, was given greater credence by the performance of the "previously disadvantaged players", if you'll excuse the awful term (which, despite being patronising and insulting, still lurks in the local lexicon). JP Duminy was the find of the tour; Hashim Amla demonstrated his worth at the highest level; and warhorse Makhaya Ntini was persistent and brave.
The debate about "quotas" and racial composition can now finally be put to bed. The challenge is for cricket to embrace the fans in the townships and suburbia, black and white, and to exploit the wonderful possibilities provided by this success. There were two reasons for the joyous reaction to the win: beating Australia is an obsession among SA sportsmen and supporters. The two nations have been at each other's throats for years - and Australia have usually enjoyed the bigger squeeze.
The other was the manner in which South Africa won. Historically, the team have travelled as "chokers", a tag that wasn't altogether unfair. They seldom delivered on their fighting talk. But this was different. In Perth and in Melbourne, there were fears of a slaughter after Australia set the standard. South Africa were on the backfoot and in danger of humiliation. Instead, they chased down the second-highest winning target in history. A week later, their world looked to be caving in (they were 184-7) until Duminy arrived at the crease and plundered 166 for his maiden Test century. It was an innings that ripped the heart from Australia. It was uncharacteristic, but South Africa demonstrated undeniable fighting spirit.
Beating Australia was no fluke. For coach Mickey Arthur, who last year survived a row with the former president of Cricket SA, it was vindication of his planning and his belief in the players. His stated aim was to get to number one in the Test rankings. After this, they are tantalisingly close and will get the chance when Australia travel to South Africa for the rematch. The world order is shifting. India were the first to flex their muscles, to be followed by South Africa. Australia have been rocked back. Certainly, their cloak of invincibility has taken a mighty knock.
Even though the dead rubber was lost in Sydney, South Africans celebrated long and hard. With the economy crashing and local politics more vicious than ever, the victory provided succour to a jaded, dispirited nation. Clinton van der Berg is the Communications Manager of SuperSport