Before the ODI series began, South Africa had played 13 ODIs against Sri Lanka in Sri Lanka since 2000, and had won exactly one; their 1-12 win-loss record was as bad as Bangladesh's in Sri Lanka. With this 2-1 series win, they have improved that record considerably, and also won their first ODI series against Sri Lanka in that country. They had drawn their first series 1-1, in 1993, and then lost the others quite handily.
The big difference for South Africa this time was their batting: in three games they averaged 41.15 runs per wicket, and 5.95 runs per over; in their previous series here, they had never gone beyond 25 runs per wicket, and 4.55 per over. Twice in three games they went past 300, whereas their previous-highest in all visits to Sri Lanka had been 264. There were four centuries for them in three games, with Hashim Amla getting two, and Quinton de Kock and AB de Villiers scoring hundreds in the decider. In 16 previous matches against Sri Lanka in Sri Lanka, they had had only one centurion: Jacques Kallis made 101 in Colombo in 2004. This time, ironically, Kallis was the one batsman who couldn't buy a run, with scores of 0, 1, and 4 in three games.
As a bowling unit, South Africa conceded 5.60 runs per over, which is their poorest economy rate a series in Sri Lanka, but they took wickets regularly, averaging 25.10, and their batsmen outperformed Sri Lanka's as well.
The hosts, on the other hand, were hampered by the lack of big scores from their top-order batsmen. While South Africa's top seven batsmen scored four hundreds in 21 innings, Sri Lanka's top order played exactly the same number of innings, but managed only three fifties, with a highest score of 88, by Kumar Sangakkara. Tillakaratne Dilshan's 86 in Pallekele was their only other score of more than 60.
The highlight of the final game of the series was South Africa's batting. Their total of 339 is their third-best in Asia - the two higher ones were both in India. They also had two centurions in the match, which was the 15th such instance for them in ODIs. For the third time in a row, one of those two batsmen was de Kock: he had also scored centuries against India in the second and third ODIs of the series last season, with Amla in the second, and with de Villiers in the third.
The total of 339 ultimately turned out to be more than enough, but in the first ten overs of the run-chase it seemed Sri Lanka might do a repeat of Johannesburg 2012, when South Africa scored 312 with hundreds from Graeme Smith and de Villiers, but lost by two wickets with a ball to spare, as Kumar Sangakkara scored 102 off 97. After ten overs of the chase here, Sri Lanka were 99 for 1, which is the highest ten-over score for any team in an ODI in Sri Lanka since 2001. The next two are both by Sri Lanka against Bangladesh - 93 in Hambantota last year, and 82 in Dambulla in 2010.
One of the disappointments for Sri Lanka was also Lasith Malinga's lack of effectiveness: in 23 overs he returned figures of 4 for 161 - an average of 40.25, and an economy rate of seven. He was the most expensive among all the Sri Lankan bowlers in the series. In Hambantota he went for 85 in his ten overs, the most runs he has conceded in a home ODI, and the second-highest in all ODIs.
With two centuries in three innings, Amla was the batting star for South Africa, and finished with an aggregate of 258 runs, the highest for a South African in an overseas ODI series of three or fewer matches (or in a series in which a player has played no more than three games). De Villiers' aggregate of 212 is the fifth-best.
Among the bowlers, Ryan McLaren was similarly outstanding with the ball, taking nine wickets at an average of 13.11, and an economy rate of 4.91. He joined Allan Donald as the only South Africans to take nine in an overseas ODI series of three or fewer matches. Donald took nine in South Africa's first ODI series upon readmission, in India in 1991-92.