ALL THE talk of heroics, famous rearguards and bulldog spirit came to nothing. England were simply blown away on the fourth morning of the final Test by a South Africa team who were magnificent in their intensity and purpose.
Ultimately, having dominated three of the four Tests, drawing the series 1-1 and retaining the Basil D'Oliveira Trophy was the least that South Africa deserved.
The final moment of this narrative -- and, my, how a fifth Test would have been welcome to decide the outcome of an outstanding series -- came on the point of lunch when Ryan Sidebottom aimed a leg-side heave off J-P Duminy and had his stumps rearranged.
With five sessions remaining, not even Graham Onions, had he been playing, could have survived. In any case, England knew that their task on the fourth morning was far different from Centurion and Cape Town, where Onions had held out at the last.
The limit of their ambition on those occasions had been to survive for the draw, but here there was too much time left, so they had no option but to try to play positively and hope to get ahead of South Africa.
There is a fine line, though, between positive and reckless cricket, and England did not always tread on the right side of it yesterday.
There was a kind of minor heroism in the solid figure of Paul Collingwood, however, who top-scored in the second innings, as he had in the first.
Collingwood apart, England's batting was woeful: it was under par for most of the series. Twice here England were bowled out for below 200, both innings combined lasting just 90.4 overs. No wonder that the scale of this defeat -- by an innings and 74 runs -- was massive. It was England's second heaviest against South Africa.
Given the pace and carry from the pitch, and the hostility of South Africa's attack, it needed the frontline batsmen to take England up to and beyond South Africa's total, but only Collingwood stood firm.
Kevin Pietersen, rightly circumspect for 40 minutes, could add only three to his overnight total before he swished at a wide ball from Wayne Parnell, the debutant left-armer. It completed a miserable tour for Pietersen.
Ian Bell was given a thorough working over by Morne Morkel, in particular. Morkel took four wickets in the second innings, to add to his three in the first, and he shared the man-of-the-match award with his new-ball partner, Dale Steyn. They were outstanding: fast, hostile and unrelenting. They were the difference between the teams.
Bell offered a catch to second slip, fencing with an open blade as he had in the second innings at Cape Town. Matt Prior, never at his best in these situations, went quickly. He was dropped at short leg first ball, then aimed a wild pull to his second, top-edging to Graeme Smith running backwards at slip.
Stuart Broad came and went quickly, too, although there was something in the manner of his departure that rankled. It suggested that he is finding it hard to distinguish between competitiveness and petulance.
Broad was given not out after an appeal for caught behind when he gloved a leg-side lifter from Morkel and the South Africans called for a review, during which time Broad pointed to his forearm. He then stood there in disbelief when the third umpire upheld the call, and walked off shaking his head.
The best of English on show yesterday, as it often has been throughout the series, came from the bat of Collingwood, who found the requisite balance between judicious defence and aggressive strokeplay.
Recognising that the situation did not call for Brigadier Block, he morphed into Lieutenant Lash, at one stage smashing Steyn back over his head for six. Collingwood has had an outstanding tour and more than anyone he epitomised the qualities of this team.
Those qualities are based around old-fashioned values of hard work, honest endeavour and a never-say-die spirit. In that sense, there was much of which to be proud, since any result in South Africa is hard to come by.
Apart from the final death throes, there was never less than a willingness and toughness about England's cricket, reflected best, perhaps, by the fielding on the third morning of this final Test, which was as good as anything seen from an England team.
Ultimately, though, they were not quite good enough to pull off what would have been something of a heist.
Three of the top six were short of form and runs: two, Andrew Strauss and Pietersen, were key players, the other, Jonathan Trott, showed that England's search for a top-class No 3 goes on. Paradoxically, the batsmen under most pressure -- Alastair Cook, Bell and Collingwood -- delivered.
The bowling was honest and, at times, skilled, but England's four-man attack does not possess enough devil to take 20 wickets abroad on a consistent basis.
Having plumped for six batsmen throughout -- six batsmen who failed to deliver -- England are no nearer the answer of how best to balance their side to give them more opportunities of doing more than just hang on for a draw. (© The Times, London)
Scoreboard in factfile