Sri Lanka v South Africa, 2nd Test, SSC, 5th day July 28, 2014

'It was emotionally draining' - Amla

Traditions are the ties that connect groups of people even when individuals change. It is also how sports teams define a philosophy.

An hour-and-a-half after play in Colombo, once the presentation, media engagements and autograph signing was done, the South Africa team walked down the changeroom stairs to applause from a small group of people still hanging around. They made their way past their team bus, whose engine had already spluttered into life and was ready to whisk them off and walked down the SSC tunnel and onto the field. They headed to the surface that was supposed to be their undoing and sang their team song. That's tradition.

The words are still a secret but at least two of them are known. "Protea Fire," is printed on the banner that hangs outside South Africa's changeroom and is also the title of their track. It is not just a catch phrase. It refers to the national flower, the Protea, which is the first to bloom after a fire. Those two words stand for strength - in particular, the strength to prosper even in tough times. It was apt that South Africa had those words on display in Sri Lanka, where they recorded their first Test series win in the country in 21 years.

"We knew that to win a series here, there would be certain times when we would reach our breaking point and we almost did," the captain Hashim Amla said. "But there is resilience. We are a South African team who are very proud and passionate. We always want to go down fighting."

Though they survived, they were made to show their tenacity. Sri Lanka gave themselves around 128 overs to bowl South Africa out and with the composition of their attack and the rate they get through their work that was always likely to be more. It ended up being 111 overs (due to the rain breaks), still a substantial amount of time for a team to resist. Amla and AB de Villiers led the cause and saw off 24-and-a-half of those - more than a fifth.

That display of commitment was what pleased Amla the most about the performance. "The way we batted today, we tried our best to hang in there. You may not win the game but the character you show is the most important thing," Amla said.

Amla had already shown that in the first innings when he spent more than eight hours blunting the Sri Lankan threat. In the second dig, he was around for 10 minutes short of three hours. In total, Amla spent more time on the field than any of his team-mates and as a new captain, that was just the way he wanted to sink his teeth into the job.

"You don't want to be in the changeroom watching. You want to be batting. When I was batting, I took comfort that there were wickets in hand," he said. And when he was dismissed after battling cramp for the latter portions of his innings, the nerves set in because sometimes saving a match can be more difficult than winning one.

"When you looked at this Test, it was almost a mirror image of the first Test but the roles were reversed. To win a Test match you're always on the upper hand. You don't have the pressure of wickets falling maybe but having stuck out a draw, it has a lot more character building because of the way everybody applied themselves," he said. "There was definitely nerves, tension, biting of fingernails in the changeroom. It was emotionally draining."

But those feelings were kept in check by Amla's team-mates and one in particular. "Vernon [Philander] had a brilliant game all round - the way he bowled was brilliant and so was the way he batted in a pressure situation," Amla said. "Vernon has been a high-pressure person for us for a while."

Philander batted with the tail, as he did against Australia in March but this time he did not run out of partners. This is the third time in the last year he has played a part in a South African lower-order fightback, after also saving the Wanderers Test against India with Dale Steyn. He has only been dismissed twice in his last five Test innings and faced 435 balls in that time so all the talk about him being an allrounder is well-founded.

Philander was not the only one Amla singled out. He mentioned Dean Elgar and JP Duminy's centuries in Galle as setting South Africa up and Dale Steyn's nine-for which he said was an "excellent performance which gave us the victory that made us favourites." There was even a word for Morne Morkel, who picked up his 200th Test wicket in the Colombo Test. "He was one of our under-rated bowlers even though he does not get as many accolades.

"The workload is shared. That really helps keep the team ticking," Amla said, describing the current side. It also ensures the traditions they built over the last few years, remains.

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent