Gloom hung about Sri Lankan cricket before this tour. The question was not if they would lose, but by how much. Somehow, in three winding weeks, the dark clouds have come to be banished. Bloomed in their place: unexpected, rapturous joy.

No Sri Lankan series is complete without a collapse, of course, but on this occasion, the trough was hit nice and early. It is that glum 117 all out that gives the subsequent triumphs meaning. It is when Graham Ford called Kusal Mendis "The Prince", following his 176, that a team-wide scramble for hyperbolic praise really began.

In Galle, Australia came upon Sri Lankan cricket's more sinister side. They were faced with a pitch that would wear if so much as a shadow fell upon it; a surface so dry it inspired their top order to spectacularly combust. On day two their hopes for the series went up in flames, and by the third afternoon, Sri Lanka's spinners had frolicking merrily around the pyre.

The home side had three SSC centurions to Australia's two. Dhananjaya de Silva made a velvet hundred, after his team had been 26 for 5. Dinesh Chandimal slow-cooked a supporting ton. Kaushal Silva battled pain in his left hand and his own bad form, to set off like a spinning firework upon reaching triple figures, and leave the series with a smirk.

But it fit that Sri Lanka's slow bowlers defined the final, triumphant day. All through the series they had beaten both edges of the bat. They had Australia lunging at turning balls, and leaving straight ones. They had had batsmen running down the pitch to deliveries they should have played from the crease; having scrambled the opposition's footwork, as well as their minds.

In the last innings of the series, theirs was a catalogue of spinners' dream dismissals. An aggressive opening batsman was bowled around his legs. Edges were taken by keeper and slip. One batsman was bowled trying to cut. There was a skied slog, a stumping, all adding up to a 9 for 60 slump.

Even the pitch-markings appeared to be in thrall of Sri Lankan spin. When Moises Henriques and Josh Hazlewood were deemed out of their ground by a hair, in the second session, close-ups of the popping crease revealed it to be chunkier and wonkier than a crease should generally be. What better way to pay tribute to the thicker-than-average Man of the Series? Just like the champion spinner, these creases had their curves.

Angelo Mathews dropped one of the simplest slip chances he is ever likely to get, burned two reviews in successive balls, and made an over-cautious declaration, and yet, the victory almost came too easy. His is one of the zanier captaincy records. Having failed to oversee a single win over a Test-playing nation until the end of June, he has Sri Lanka's most famous whitewash on his resume now, to go with the 2014 series win in England.

When the SSC dust settles, maybe the narrative that takes grip around the cricket world will fixate on Australia's shortcomings with and against spin. Nine Asian failures in a row is difficult to ignore. Their slow bowlers were modest on turning tracks. The top order fell in such heaps, batsmen tripped over each other on their way back to the pavilion.

But let not that narrative drown out the triumphant cries of one of cricket's quieter voices. Let it not edge out the story of a team that draws on a smaller population than Australia, whose finances are in worse shape New Zealand's; a team that still only taps about a third of their island for top-end talent, for reasons involving a finished conflict, and ongoing gross mismanagement. A country which, still, produces batsmen who stroke effortless sixes to begin promising Test careers; which unveils mystery spinners who turn their first games; whose youngest gun's second first-class hundred is one of the great Test innings; and a team, whose heart-and-soul is a 38-year-old with grey-flecked hair, and maybe cricket's gentlest spirit.

When they play like they have this series, Sri Lanka are the shock of lime in cricket's sambol. They are the cashew in its dodol, and the murunga leaf in its odiyal kool.

Cricket would still go on without Sri Lanka, but would it be anywhere near as good?