Graeme Smith cracks another boundary during his epic match-winning innings .
Edgbaston has provided heartbreak for South Africa in the past, but nine years on from their lowest point in the 1999 World Cup they exorcised some ghosts by claiming their first series win in England since 1965. Graeme Smith produced a performance that will go down in South Africa sporting history with an unbeaten 154, one of the finest centuries in a run chase. The victory was clinched by a 112-run stand with Mark Boucher, after they claimed the extra half hour against a spent England attack.
It was a crowning moment for Smith, whose love-affair with Edgbaston continued following his 277 in 2003. On that tour he was a young and inexperienced captain and his team failed to build on twice leading the series. Smith didn't want this contest to go to a deciding match at The Oval. Not that the winning moment needed to be any sweeter, but the final boundary came off Kevin Pietersen.
The next-highest score was 45, but it was an equally valuable innings from Boucher, an ideal man to have at the other end. He came in at 171 for 5 and England's tails were once again up following Monty Panesar's removal of AB de Villiers, who'd added a vital 78 with Smith. But all the emotional and physical exertions caught up with them during a final session that extended beyond three hours. By the time the extra overs were claimed, England had just about given up hope of repeating their 2005 heroics. Lightening doesn't strike twice.
Smith wore a steely determination throughout his innings as he steadily lost partners and had to be at his very best to combat a wearing surface, which offered particular assistance to Panesar from the footmarks. His century wasn't without its moments of fortune, but batsmen deserve a dose of luck in the final innings of a Test. To highlight the difficulty of chasing runs at Edgbaston, the previous best successful pursuit was 208 and Smith's hundred, which came off 177 balls, was also the first fourth-innings century at Edgbaston.
He played positively from the outset, but without being reckless, and his main moments of concern came against Panesar. On 74 he padded up to a delivery that ripped out of the footmarks and, although replays showed it hitting middle, Aleem Dar would have been guessing to give it. Then, on 79, he had a clear let-off when Tim Ambrose's lob to the stumps wasn't collected by Ian Bell after Smith and de Villiers hesitated over a single.
With Smith on 85, he gloved Panesar to Ambrose but England's appeal was muted and Dar not interested. The margin between success and failure was evident next ball when his slog-sweep landed inches short of a diving Andrew Strauss at deep midwicket. However, after reaching his century progress to 150 came without major alarm, but the spark and fight had gone from England.
Amid all the praise for Smith, Boucher's role shouldn't be forgotten. He was the last barrier before the tail was exposed. But he is one of South Africa's streetfighters and nudged, nurdled and chivvied his way through the target. Boucher was one of two survivors from the 1999 World Cup side - alongside Jacques Kallis - and has witnessed more than his fair share of victories go begging at the last. This one didn't get away.
England's bowlers just couldn't make the potentially decisive sixth breakthrough. Their cause wasn't aided with Ryan Sidebottom again lacking rhythm and sending down just 10 overs, while Anderson, surprisingly, bowled only 13. Inevitably, Flintoff began to show signs of tiredness as did Panesar when he started to drop short.
Smith's outward calmness was not always replicated by his team-mates or the dressing room, and at one stage the atmosphere began decidedly heated with Flintoff's yorkers from the Pavilion End again providing the spark. He made the breakthrough in his fourth over when Neil McKenzie failed to sight a full delivery, getting struck on the boot in front of off stump as he turned away. McKenzie wore a rueful smile as he walked off, but the anger was brewing in the South African dressing room. It almost boiled over eight overs later when a screaming, low full toss thudded into the top of Kallis's leg as he, too, turned away for cover. Steve Davis made the correct decision, but Kallis was almost apoplectic, a feeling matched by Mickey Arthur on the balcony.
Life was no easier at the other end as Panesar started to find some bite and turn, both off the pitch and out of the rough. He ripped a couple past Hashim Amla's outside edge before firing in an arm-ball, trapping him in front of leg stump. The ball was also reverse-swinging and Anderson produced a good one to remove Ashwell Prince. South Africa were four down with less than 100 on board, but their captain couldn't be shifted and produced his finest performance when it mattered most. It's mission accomplished.