Birmingham: South African captain Graeme Smith hit what he described as the best century of his career to lead his team to a series-clinching victory on the fourth day of the third Test against England at Edgbaston on Saturday.
Smith made an unbeaten 154 as South Africa won by five wickets to take a winning 2-0 lead in the four-Test series. "I've had some meaningful innings in my life but with the whole situation and for the people back home, it's bigger than just us, this victory. I'd have to say it's my best innings," said Smith.
England counterpart Michael Vaughan said defeat was a bitter blow but paid tribute to Smith. "We've all just witnessed a very, very special innings. The way Graeme Smith came out and played was as good as I've seen anyone chase down that sort of target under that sort of pressure."
South Africa were set to make 281, by 70 runs the highest successful fourth innings chase in a Test match at Edgbaston and South Africa's fourth highest of all time.
It was South Africa's first series win in England since 1965 and ended a sequence of three series in the country in which they failed to capitalise after going one Test up.
The victory seemed unlikely when South Africa slumped to 93 for four, with two of the wickets falling to balls from Andrew Flintoff which the batsmen did not see.
But Smith survived the collapse and found able partners in AB de Villiers (27) who helped him put on 78 for the fifth wicket and Mark Boucher (45 not out), who shared an unbeaten 112-run stand for the sixth wicket.
"I never lost confidence," said Smith. "I knew we just needed one or two partnership. I was focusing on ten runs at a time, thinking, let's just get close."
South Africa took advantage of a tiring England team and claimed the available extra half hour at the end of an afternoon session which had already lasted for three hours.
Vaughan said he believed almost until the end that England could win. "I felt we were just one wicket away. If we could have got the likes of (Morne) Morkel and (Paul) Harris in on that kind of deck I felt we could have won the game."
But Vaughan said South Africa deserved their series win. "They've played better cricket than us over the three games," he said. "They've given us a lesson on how to bat."
Flintoff, who first swung the momentum towards England with a fiery spell on the second evening, made vital breakthroughs with full deliveries which the batsmen appeared not to see.
He trapped Neil McKenzie leg before for 22 after McKenzie and Smith put on 65 for the first wicket. McKenzie appeared to lose the ball completely and was ducking when the ball hit him on the boot.
Jacques Kallis also ducked against a ball which struck him on the full on his right thigh in line with the stumps.
Kallis, bowled by a Flintoff yorker in the first innings which he admitted he did not pick up from the bowler's hand as it was delivered against the backdrop of the committee room balcony immediately above the sightscreen, showed his anger as he was given out leg before.
In between Flintoff's two wickets, Hashim Amla was leg before to an arm ball from left-arm spinner Monty Panesar. Flintoff was rested after taking two for 28 in eight overs but Ashwell Prince was caught behind off James Anderson as South Africa crashed to 93 for four.
South Africa, leading the four-match series 1-0, earlier bowled out England for 363 in their second innings. Paul Collingwood was last man out for 135.