The confidence gained from series victories over England and Australia last year has led to the Proteas playing some sublime cricket in 2013. Pakistan were on the wrong end of it in the first test at The Wanderers in Johannesburg, which ended inside of four days on Monday with South Africa victorious by 211 runs.
On the first day, it was felt that South Africa's 253 all out was below the standard the team would have set itself, but that innings looked absolutely spectacular when compared to Pakistan's measly reply of 49 all out.
When the Proteas then sprinted to 275 for 3 declared at 4.43 runs per over in their second innings, they left themselves plenty of time to dismiss the tourists for a second time.
A forgone conclusion
Pakistan fought hard to make 268 all out in their second innings, but the match result had been a forgone conclusion after their first innings.
It could easily have been a bigger victory than 211 runs when one considers that Graeme Smith, who was captaining his 100th test, declared South Africa's second innings on 275 for 3 on the third day. By that time, though, Pakistan trailed by a massive 479 runs. To win, they required a world record fourth innings score of 480.
"You always get a bit nervous in milestone games because too much else is going on, so it was nice to perform a little bit [he made 24 and 52] and to be part of a special test match," Smith said afterwards.
The Proteas' win was set up by the team's outstanding bowling performance in Pakistan's first innings as, for the third time in the last year-and-half, they dismissed a team for less than 50. At 49 runs, the total was the Pakistanis' lowest ever in test cricket.
Dale Steyn was in irresistible form, bowling with pace, swing and movement off the pitch that was simply too much for Pakistan's batsmen to deal with. He returned figures of 6 for 8 in their first innings Â– the third best six-wicket return in test history Â– to lead the way.
While the tourists managed to deal with Steyn's challenge better in their second knock, they still struggled as the paceman followed up with a haul of 5 for 52 in 28.4 overs.
'That hurt us dearly'
"I think that was a great spell of bowling, especially in the first innings, and that hurt us dearly," said Pakistan captain Misbah ul-Haq at the post-match prize-giving.
Pakistan's coach Dav Whatmore, who has also coached Sri Lanka and Bangladesh, rated Steyn's bowling in the first innings as the best ever performance he had seen from a fast bowler.
Steyn's match figures of 11 for 60 were the best of his career and the seventh best return by a South African bowler ever. No one in South African history has captured 11 wickets for fewer runs than Steyn, who showed why he has been the world's number one ranked test bowler since August 2009.
At the prize-giving, he was asked whether his performance in the match was his best ever. "I'd like to say I bowl better in the nets," he joked, "but this counts out here, in the middle."
'That set the tone'
He added: "To pick up wickets is always important and, as I said in a press conference the other day, what I haven't done lately is pick up wickets at the beginning of the innings, so I was quite chuffed that I was able to get the first three quickly. That set the tone for the boys and then the rest of the guys followed."
Only once during the test match did Pakistan offer any tough resistance and that came in the second innings when Misbah and Asad Shafiq occupied the crease for some time in putting on 127 for the fifth wicket. Steyn, though, ended that stand on Monday morning and added another three victims to lead South Africa to victory.
AB de Villiers, with the bat and behind the stumps, was as effective as Steyn with the ball, scoring 31 and 103 not out, and taking 11 catches.
His effort bettered the South African record for catches in a test of nine, previously shared by Dave Richardson and Mark Boucher, who achieved the feat three times. It also equalled the world record held by Jack Russell of England, whose 11 dismissals came at The Wanderers in 1995.
"Hopefully he's silenced his critics. He kept superbly and went on to get a hundred [with the bat]," said Smith.
Looking back over the past week, the South African captain said to cheers from the crowd: "It has been superb. It has been so emotional. I think I'm going to go home tonight and spend the next two days in bed, just recovering from everything that's gone on.
"I need some time to put into perspective the support and the amazing feeling that I've got from the fans over the last period of time, and everybody, my team-mates, my family have been incredible."
Thanks to another early finish and another outstanding performance from the Proteas, Smith could have available the two days of rest he is seeking for relaxation.