CENTURION - Another day, another period of play to further depress the spirit.
The substantial depth of their batting and their sheer resolve once more lifted South Africa from strife to strength on the first day of the final Test, a sharp contrast to another exhibition of West Indies' mediocrity in which the amazing Courtney Walsh was a shining exception.
South Africa's standard-bearer this time was wicket-keeper Mark Boucher, whose previous highest score in the series was 22 but who advanced to his first Test hundred over the last three decisive hours.
He entered an hour-and-a-half after lunch with the innings faltering at 123 for six and was only dismissed quarter-hour before close to a low first slip catch off Walsh with the second new ball for an even 100.
By then, the total was past 300 and South Africa ended 311 for nine, the highest return for any day in the series.
Given that they were sent in by Brian Lara in brilliant sunshine on a pitch of no particular devil and that their dispirited opponents are yet to raise 300 in any innings, it was already a powerful position from which to press towards their goal of inflicting a 5-0 whitewash on the West Indies.
Pugnacious in approach, the 22-year-old Boucher cut and pulled with relish for most of his 16 boundaries off an inviting diet of short bowling served up by the three young West Indies fast bowlers who again failed to follow Walsh's example of an appropriate length.
He dominated successive stands of 92 with the solid Jacques Kallis, who followed his 110 and unbeaten 88 in the fourth Test with 83, and 55 with the left-hander Lance Klusener.
Boucher went to his landmark with Allan Donald as his partner by which time the West Indies were loping around like the broken team they are.
Walsh, returning for his 106th Test after recovering from a hamstring muscle strain, sustained during the third, again accentuated the huge gap between him and his inconsistent successors.
He removed left-hander Gary Kirsten with the second ball of the match in identical fashion to how Curtly Ambrose had done with the first ball of the previous Test, a leg-side deflection to the keeper off the glove. He completed a day on which he sought intermittent attention in the dressing room with five wickets for 78 from 23 tireless overs.
It was the 16th time he has accounted for more than half the wickets in a Test innings and Boucher's carried his overall collection to 396.
Walsh sorely missed the support of Ambrose. Also hobbled in last week's fourth Test by a hamstring strain, his long-time accomplice confined himself to leisurely strolls around the boundary's edge, signing autographs for spectators on the grass embankments of this most relaxed of venues.
In his absence, Nixon McLean, Merv Dillon and Reon King, making his Test debut 24 hours after his arrival from the Caribbean, would have had coach Malcolm Marshall tearing at what little hair he has left.
Between them, they conceded 183 runs, with 26 fours and a six, from their 45 overs for the return of three wickets.
They got more and more ragged as they day progressed, excusable perhaps in King's case, as he hardly had time to get his feet on South African soil before he was pressed into service, but certainly not for McLean and Dillon.
They would have known Boucher's style well for they had also dished out the short stuff to him in the match against Border in which he plundered a six and 13 fours in a second innings 84.
Such waywardness reduced Lara to the defensive measure, even prior to tea, of Carl Hooper's off-spin from round the wicket to six on the leg-side, and no slip, and setting a sweeper to protect the cover boundary from the barrage of cuts prompted by wide long-hops.
It also spoiled an encouraging start.
Walsh accounted for Kirsten and Herschelle Gibbs, to Floyd Reifer's swooping, ankle-high catch wide to his right at third slip, in his opening spell.
McLean joined in with a bat-pad dismissal of Daryll Cullinan in the eighth over to leave South Africa 18 for three.
Dillon, belatedly summoned by Lara for the 20th over, accounted for Cronje with his third ball, another victim of a leg-side deflection to Jacobs off a hip-high delivery angled across him.
South Africa were shaky at 86 for four at lunch. They would have been in deeper trouble had Dillon not missed his underarm throw at the bowler's end with Jonty Rhodes well short of his ground and had Lara not waited until Rhodes got off the mark with an edged boundary off McLean to insert a third slip.
The errors were not costly.
Rhodes presented Dillon with his second wicket, skying a catch to mid-on off a miscued hook at 98, and Shaun Pollock had no answer to a perfect leg-cutter from Walsh that he edged to first slip at 123.
The method of Rhodes' dismissal was a curse in disguise for it seemed to prompt Dillon and his young pace partners into more ineffective, half-pitch bowling, much appreciated by Boucher.
While wickets fell around him, Kallis played the anchor that would prevent the tide from carrying the ship onto the rocks.
He announced himself with a resounding hooked six off McLean off his 25th ball, but then went another 60 balls without a boundary.
He was twice lucky before eventually pulling Hooper's short, inoffensive off-break straight to Shivnarine Chanderpaul at short fine-leg in sight of another hundred.
Philo Wallace put down a sharp chance at short-leg off Dillon when he was 27, and umpire Rudi Koertzen granted him the benefit of the marginal doubt on an lbw appeal off Walsh when 42.
By then, South Africa had proved they could be down but never out and the West Indies had lost control.
Fumbles in the field multiplied; there were overthrows. Reifer in the team following Stuart Williams' withdrawal with sore toes - dropped Klusener at slip off Hooper and, near the end, Donald in the gully off Walsh.
The last session yielded 126 off 36 overs for the return of Kallis, Klusener, to Jacobs' 16th catch of the series, and the ebullient Boucher.
Day 3: Rough Rhodes for Windies
CENTURION PARK - Jonty Rhodes inflicted further pain here yesterday on a West Indies team by now numbed by the constant agony.
Striking the ball with clean, thunderous power, the country's most popular cricketer demolished the weary bowling, minus its injured leader, Courtney Walsh, and thrilled a record capacity crowd of 17 500 with the fastest, and surely most explosive, Test hundred ever compiled by a South African.
As always nimble on his feet and quick of eye, Rhodes hit eight fours and six pulled sixes, the last off his 95th ball from off-spinner Carl Hooper that carried him to 103, his third hundred in his 41st Test.
Left-hander Lance Klusener's whirlwind unbeaten 102 against India at Cape Town two seasons back that required five balls more had been South Africa's previous standard for a rapid-fire Test century.
With a superfluous lead of 568, captain Hansie Cronje immediately declared his second innings at 399 for five, left-handed opener Gary Kirsten having earlier helped himself to a patient 134 spanning seven-and-a-half hours and 305 balls, his eighth century in his 50th Test.
It left South Africa's bowlers ten overs and two days to complete South Africa's cherished goal of the first 5-0 whitewash the West Indies would have ever suffered in a series.
Immediately, Allan Donald removed the luckless Philo Wallace to a fine leg-side deflection to the wicket-keeper, seemingly off his thigh, and the West Indies limped to close at 18 for one wicket.
Bounding out at Cronje's dismissal in the middle of another burning hot afternoon like a greyhound from the traps, Rhodes immediately set about raising the momentum in an effort to hasten the declaration. In a jiffy, the more pressing consideration was his individual landmark.
His fourth scoring stroke was a hook for six off Nixon McLean that actually earned seven as it was from a no-ball. After that, he did much as he pleased, outscoring his two partners, Kirsten and Shaun Pollock, 103 to 32 in the 104 minutes he was at the wicket. None of the four bowlers Brian Lara used against him was spared. All held up well in the early exchanges but had no answer to Rhodes' all-action aggression.
Merv Dillon and Reon King were exquisitely driven through the cover when they fed him inviting half-volleys and Hooper was punished as soon as he was short and, once, could only stand aghast at a thumping reverse sweep that reached the advertising boards before he could blink.
Most degrading of all, Rhodes made a mockery of Lara's tactic of setting three men back on the ropes between square-leg and fine-leg for McLean's bouncers. Every time McLean, following instructions, dropped short, Rhodes was prepared to go after him.
Twice he planted him into the frenzied fans on the grassed embankment. On the one occasion he didn't connect with the middle of the bat he still got a six as substitute Rawl Lewis couldn't quite complete a sensational catch, parrying the ball over the boundary in the process. There were also three fours from pulls as McLean, the most controlled of the bowlers until then, was taken for 34 off five overs.
The assault threw the West Indies into a state of confusion.
With Hooper operating exclusively from one end before lunch and McLean, Dillon and King from the other, they restricted the scoring to 74 from 34 overs in the first session for the wickets of Jaques Kallis, caught off the glove sweeping off Hooper, and Daryl Cullinan, calmly taken at point by Daren Ganga off a lifter from Dillon. The remainder of the innings yielded 229 off 46.3 overs.
Cronje himself provided the initial acceleration after lunch with a huge six over long-on off Hooper that kick-started an innings of 58 off 105 balls, highlighted by three peerless cover-driven boundaries as he shared a stand of 107 in two hours with the one-pace Kirsten who was finally smartly caught at slip by Ganga, cutting at Hooper.
Cronje's hook off McLean that provided Ganga at deep square-leg with the second of his three catches possibly influenced Lara's later misguided tactic against the ebullient Rhodes who thrived on it. It was not the first error of judgment the beleaguered West Indies captain has made on what has been a nightmare series for him and his team.
With two days remaining, there is precious little of survival. But, snatching at straws, it would be heartening if one of the batsmen could at least accumulate the first hundred of the series. They have had examples enough from the opposition over the past two Tests to remember what it is like.
Day 4: Beaten all ends up
CENTURION PARK - Their spirit long since broken by opponents who possessed in abundance the all-round depth, spirit and harmony they patently lacked, the West Indies did not unduly delay the inevitable humiliation of their first 5-0 drubbing in a Test series here yesterday.
Needing to bat through the last two days to avoid the whitewash that has been the confident expectation throughout South Africa from as far back as the second Test, the West Indies second innings ended quarter-hour after tea, all out 217 off 75.2 overs. The margin of defeat, a resounding 351 runs.
Brian Lara, stunned by the turn of events in his first overseas series as captain, said the West Indies had been ``thoroughly outplayed in every department by a much better team''.
But he also acknowledged there were divisions in his ranks.
``The unity needs to be better,'' he said. ``As a team, I'd prefer to have guys right together off the field and things would work better on the field, but you've got to remember we're all from different islands and slightly different backgrounds.''
South Africa had only once before inflicted a similar clean sweep in a series, 4-0 over Australia in 1969-70 when the present chief of their United Cricket Board, Ali Bacher, was captain.
His present-day successor, Hansie Cronje, praised his own team but refused to be drawn into serious comparisons.
``I'd say if we could play them now, I think we would win,'' he quipped at the presentation function. ``They're all about 45 and 50 now, aren't they?''
That team contained a host of outstanding young players such as Graeme Pollock, Barry Richards, Eddie Barlow and Mike Procter soon to be debarred from Test cricket because of their government's abhorrent apartheid system.
But if they were better than the current team, they had to be outstanding.
It is hard to imagine that any current team, including the much-touted Australians, could have been as clinically efficient in every department as Cronje's have been over the five Tests.
When the West Indies resumed yesterday there were hopes at least of a little rearguard action such as that from the lower order in the fourth Test in Cape Town that gave sagging spirits a little boost.
As Lara noted later, they were unrealistic.
``You've got 180 overs to face on the 24th and 25th days of a Test series after being four down, it's going to be very tough mentally to get the guys to stay out there as long as possible,'' he acknowledged.
``They had not done it in the first four Test matches.''
The task should have been easier since Allan Donald, the spearhead of South Africa's attack, did not take the field, confined to the team room resting a strained hamstring.
But they could have bowled Donald Duck it wouldn't have mattered, such was the West Indies' state of mind.
As always, much depended on Lara himself to at least salvage a little pride but he never looked capable.
He needed 24 balls for his first run and spent 71 balls and an hour-and-a-half over 14 before he got himself into a tangle sweeping at the left-arm, back-of-the-head spinner, Paul Adams, and was plainly lbw.
Lara came in, again wearing a sleeveless pullover in spite of the 35-degree heat, after Daren Ganga had fallen to Shaun Pollock half-hour into the day for the sixth time in his six innings in the series.
Failing to keep down a bouncing ball over off-stump, he was well taken in the gully.
Shivnarine Chanderpaul started by taking 13 of the 15 runs off Lance Klusener in the day's first over, but both he and Lara were choked by direct and disciplined bowling by Pollock, who conceded three from his opening six overs, Jacques Kallis and Cronje.
There was a spell of five consecutive overs before Chanderpaul stroked Cronje to the cover boundary.
It was pressure that told on Chanderpaul, who fell for the second time in the match to a miscued hook, this time off Kallis, seven minutes to lunch for 43.
Lara went five minutes into the second session, an unconvincing Carl Hooper followed in the next over, and Floyd Reifer was the unlucky victim of a glaring error by umpire Venkatarghavan, who gave him out caught at slip to a ball that TV replays clearly showed was off the pad and nowhere near the bat.
At 117 for six, it was left, yet again, to Ridley Jacobs to save the West Indies even further shame.
In his first series, aged 31, the left-handed wicket-keeper has been the one resounding West Indian success.
He batted with the common sense and confidence that has been his hallmark in front of and behind the stumps throughout the series for 78, from 113 balls with a six and 12 fours his main scoring strokes.
He never appeared in the slightest bother, cutting the faster bowlers with precision, lofting Adams down the ground for fours and once for six, and so upsetting Pollock that the flame-haired bowler gave him four unearned runs with a wild throw back at his stumps after a defensive stroke.
He and Nixon McLeann put on an entertaining, if meaningless, 81 in just under an hour at a time when Adams and the occasional off-spinner, Daryl Cullinan, were operating together. McLean clouted his customary six over midwicket off Adams - and even then there was a South African there to catch it, barebacked and a beer by his side. Then Adams found the perfect length for a big-turning googly that bowled him between bat and pad. The most appropriate signature to the general West Indian performance throughout the series was to follow. Jacobs was 72, a deserving hundred was beckoning, and his new partner Merv Dillon had coped comfortably with 21 balls. Then, as if overcome by some evil force, Dillon, normally an enthusiastic, level-headed cricketer, chose to play a reverse-sweep off Cullinan. It was an extravagance utterly out of place and he trudged off, justly hanging his head, when he missed and the ball hit. It would have been enough to convince Jacobs that the word team does not apply to this particular team, and he was ninth out in the first over after tea, caught behind sparring outside off stump at Man -Of-The-Series Kallis. Ten minutes later, Adams bowled Courtney Walsh and another piece of cricket history was formalised.