AUSTRALIA'S period of cricketing domination is over. It ended in the most conclusive circumstances on a windswept Tuesday afternoon at the Melbourne Cricket Ground, a citadel of strength seized by a calm and gracious South African side.
Hashim Amla, a devout Muslim spared the obligation to wear an advertisement for alcohol on his shirt, scored the winning runs with a flick of his wrists. It was a moment that told of the cricketing decline of one nation and liberation of another.
Australia lost by nine wickets to fall 2-0 behind in the three- match series. It was not so much the fact of the defeats that confirmed Australia's slide as their manner. In Perth and again in Melbourne the hosts secured powerful positions only to let them slip away as an indomitable opponent rallied and romped to victory.
Although the official rankings will grant them a few weeks' grace, the unavoidable fact is that Australia has been beaten by a better side.
A month ago Ricky Ponting's team suffered the same fate in India. Now the conquering sides must compete for the top spot.
At such times it is tempting to examine the causes of the collapse. Perhaps it is simply that Australia ran out of great players and luck, a combination that often goes together. Perhaps, too, it is better to remember the numerous glories of the past 15 years and not their limitations.
In its stint as the game's flawed exemplar, Australia has played attractive cricket, scoring quickly, encouraging leg spin, fielding balanced attacks, scorning stalemates and not sledging quite as much as might be imagined. Australia was ruthless, sometimes unscrupulous, but seldom dull.
Taken as a whole, the teams led by Mark Taylor, Steve Waugh and Ricky Ponting have enhanced the game, especially its five-day format.
Along the way Australia has taken part in three of the greatest series staged, in the Caribbean, India and England.
Always it has taken a mighty effort to bring them down and that remains the case.
Australia may not have been liked but it has commanded respected, sometimes amounting to fear. It has been a time of Waugh and Glenn McGrath and Shane Warne and broken moulds.
Nothing lasts forever and now it is someone else's turn. The game will go on. Australia must lick its wounds and fight back.