South African skipper Graeme Smith admitted they had been outplayed over the final four days at The Oval after being denied a series win by England.
The tourists were in the driving seat at 345-2 on the opening day, but only managed to add another 139 for their final eight wickets as England hauled themselves back into the game.
"I'd like to have had 700 in the first innings.The [three] run outs didn't help and one or two little things go against you, but that's Test cricket," the 22-year-old said.
"I don't think we choked - England are allowed to play good
cricket. You have got to give them credit.
"They batted superbly on what was a good Test wicket - one big partnership up front really set the tone of the innings and then Freddie [Flintoff] came in and took the game away from us."
586 Australia v England, Sydney 1894
England won by 10 wickets
526-7 dec West Indies v England, Port of Spain 1968
England won by 7 wickets
520 Australia v South Africa, Melbourne 1953
SA won by 6 wickets
519 England v Australia, Melbourne 1929
Australia won by 5 wickets
496 England v Australia, Headingley 1948
Australia won by 7 wickets
490 Australia v West Indies, Bridgetown 1999
WI won by 1 wicket
484 South Africa v England, The Oval 2003
England won by 9 wickets
South Africa twice led in the series following wins at Lord's and Headingley, but were unable to hold onto their advantage.
Smith, who was nominated as South Africa's Player of the Series by England coach Duncan Fletcher, said he had not been surprised by the home team's fighting spirit.
"We knew they had it in them. They didn't want to lose a series at home, they've got a lot of fighters within their squad.
"It's been a hard-fought series, neither side has wanted to give an inch and hasn't given an inch. You've had to fight for everything you've gained."
South Africa have only won two series in England - 1-0 in 1935 and 1965 - but despite failing to make it three, Smith said he was proud of his team's efforts during the tour - his first major series since replacing Shaun Pollock as skipper.
"I thought my boys had a fantastic series. Three months away from home, they really fought hard for the whole series and put up a fantastic performance," Smith added.
Coach Eric Simons said South Africa had improved since a disappointing World Cup, which saw them fail to progress beyond the first round.
"The tour wasn't all about results, although we'll be judged by them. There are things within the team and the dressing room that we are happy with."