All things considered, South Africa could not have asked a great deal more of Shaun Pollock and his overhauled team than has been forthcoming in Sri Lanka over the past five to six weeks.
The first post-Hansiegate tour has to be regarded as a success, - not an entirely unqualified success perhaps, but a campaign that produced more good than bad. At the risk of pre-empting history, South Africa's 2000 tour of Sri Lanka is likely to prove a watershed moment as the game in this country grows into the millenium.
The rain-ravaged third Test ended in a draw on Thursday, leaving the series tied at 1-1. A few weeks ago South Africa reached the final of the Singer Cup, but lost to Sri Lanka. On the face of it, these might seem average results, but they bear a closer look.
The current rule of thumb for Test cricket is this: win your home series and do your damndest to avoid defeat when you travel. To this can be added the rider: especially when travelling to the sub-continent. With this in mind, South Africa have already had a terrific year, beating India in India and drawing with Sri Lanka. If you'd offered this to Australia at the start of the year, they'd have taken it.
As far as the Singer Cup is concerned, South Africa beat Pakistan twice and lost three times to Sri Lanka. Given that the South Africans were coming off a winter break, these results are probably no better and no worse than might have been expected. Had the one-day tournament been played after the Test series, the outcome might well have been different.
The tour also threw up two notable individual successes - Lance Klusener and Nicky Boje. Klusener has had an amazing 18 months with the bat. The seeds of his World Cup form last year were sewn in New Zealand, but now he has kicked up a level, adapting and adjusting his approach to Test match cricket on turning pitches against one of the world's best spinners.
Klusener's secret, if it is one, is his simplicity: he blocks the good balls and hits the bad ones and when this approach is underpinned with complete self-belief, it can prove well nigh irresistible. Sri Lanka couldn't work out a reliable method of dismissing him so they settled for trying to contain him. It was an admission that the South African had the wood on them but it served mainly only to persuade Klusener that he wasn't ever going to get out.
Batting at six, he organised the lower order to bat around him, convincing even the likes of Paul Adams and Nantie Hayward that it was worth their while to stick around for as long as they were able. All this, together with a new-found ability to bowl slowish off-cutters, made him South Africa's man of the series.
Boje, too, had a wonderful tour. After floating around the fringes of the side for the past four years, he finally established himself as the first-choice spinner, leapfrogging Paul Adams in the process. Boje bowled with control and intelligence and his progress since being brought into the squad for India as a late replacement for Adams gives South Africa a left-arm orthodox spinner able to tie up an end for hours.
Adams, on the other hand, will be glad to see the last of Sri Lanka. Any number of explanations have been offered for his poor form on this tour - he had been out of cricket since January, the pitches were too slow for him, the batting never gave him big enough totals to bowl to and so on and so on. The truth is, though, that Sri Lanka targetted him and Adams was unable to find a counter.
South Africa will clearly have to rethink Adams: how, where and when to use him. It is all very to argue that he is an attacking bowler, but that is to miss the point. In an attack that is usually likely to contain three or four attacking seamers, balance is provided by someone able to close up an end. Boje can do it. Adams, on all available evidence, can't.
The greatest strides forward, however, were taken by Pollock as the captain. There is still an argument that fast bowlers shouldn't captain Test teams. History throws up very few bowlers who have successfully captained - either their bowling or their captaincy suffers. It is still to soon to see whether Pollock gets caught up in this double bind. Perhaps by the end of the coming domestic season a clearer assessment of his abilities will emerge.
At the same time, though, he grew as a tactician and strategist by the day, almost by the session in some instances. More than this, he (and coaches Graham Ford and Corrie van Zyl), lifted the side back up again after the Singer Cup final and a dismal first Test. That took personality. There may be more to this particular management team than anyone had the right to expect.
Sri Lanka vs South Africa
South Africa tour of Sri Lanka