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At intervals during the second Test, the Melbourne Cricket Ground public address system carried a soothing message: "In the unlikely event of an emergency, the emergency management plan will swing into action." As South Africa cruised to an historic first series victory in Australia, home fans waited in vain for similar reassurance from their exalted cricket team.

Their expectation was pardonable. Since Test cricket's inception at this ground 131 years ago, Australia had lost home series only to England, New Zealand and, most recently in 1992-93, West Indies. Now they have been beaten out of sight in two Test matches they were capable of winning, just a month after their trouncing in India — enough to jeopardise their mantle as the world's No1, and to warm the upcoming Ashes just a tad.

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