After a rousing start to their campaign with a memorable win at Centurion, South Africa's lack of batting depth and bowling penetration was ruthlessly exposed in a trio of defeats at Cape Town, Port Elizabeth and the Wanderers. One man, however, showed fight with ball and bat to hint at a more promising future. Here are their marks out of ten.
Anrich Nortje (18 wickets at 27.11, 77 runs at 11.00 )
South Africa's find of the series ended as the highest wicket-taker overall, ahead of his own team's spearhead Kagiso Rabada and England's Stuart Broad. Nortje bowled at a consistently high pace in the upper 140s throughout the four Tests, used the short ball to good effect and showed an ability to deliver long, pressure-building spells which bodes well for the future of South Africa's attack. He collected his first five-wicket haul at the Wanderers and also put in two lengthy vigils as nightwatchman, one of which gave him his highest Test score of 40 and formed part of a match-winning partnership at SuperSport Park.
Quinton de Kock (380 runs at 47.50, 4 fifties, 23 catches)
A class above the rest of South Africa's batsmen, de Kock finished as the leading run-scorer among both teams, 56 runs ahead of Dom Sibley, and scored a half-century in every Test. De Kock seemed to be operating on different surfaces to the rest, took the attack to the opposition bowlers and scored quickly. What he needs now is to develop the nous to switch gears and play the long game by batting time, which will help him convert his fifties into hundreds at a better rate. His work behind the stumps was tidy, apart from the occasions when he dived in front of first slip and catchable chances went a-begging. As South Africa's new ODI captain and Test-captain-in-waiting, de Kock has shown he has the form to take on more responsibility.
Rassie van der Dussen (274 runs at 34.25, 3 fifties)
Van der Dussen enjoyed a satisfying debut series where he demonstrated composure and maturity in a batting line-up sorely lacking in experience. He scored fifties in three of the four Tests, including sharing in a match-winning partnership in Centurion and falling two runs short of a maiden century at the Wanderers. Most impressively, he coped well with being moved from No.5, where he played the first three Tests, to No.3 in the finale, where he made a career-best 98. His versatility has given South Africa's top order options for the future. Though he dropped three catches, he took eight and proved himself a competent slip fielder.
Keshav Maharaj (10 wickets at 46.30, 94 runs at 14.66, 1 fifty)
Tasked with the often thankless job of holding up an end, Maharaj bowled more overs than anyone else despite being benched for the final match, and was mostly successful in his containing role. At Newlands, in particular, he allowed South Africa's quicks to rotate while keeping runs down, but in all three matches, he struggled against Ben Stokes. After playing some rash shorts early in the series, Maharaj bedded in when it was too late in Port Elizabeth and scored a free-spirited second Test half-century to again show that he has something to offer with the bat.
Kagiso Rabada (14 wickets at 28.92 )
A fourth demerit point in a 24-month period meant that Rabada's series was blighted by his ban from the finale at the Wanderers and highlighted his continued disciplinary issues, which have seen him miss a second Test in less than three years. Still, Rabada remains South Africa's poster-boy and was their leading wicket-taker until his suspension. He showed glimpses of his best at SuperSport Park, where he took seven wickets in the match. His dismissal of Joe Root in Port Elizabeth, where his celebration breached the ICC Code of Conduct, revealed both how much he values big wickets and how big the burden on him has been in an attack that lacks the bite of old.
Beuran Hendricks (6 wickets at 29.16)
South Africa's search for variation, particularly now that Vernon Philander has retired, may have found an answer in left-armer Hendricks. On his home ground, the Wanderers, he was fairly impressive on debut, especially in the second innings where he took 5 for 64. Hendricks has enough domestic experience to have gained a good understanding of his game, and how to vary his lengths, and could be a handy bowler for South Africa to keep around.
Dwaine Pretorius (7 wickets at 36.00, 83 runs at 13.83)
A dependable allrounder, who offers consistency with the ball and stoicism with the bat, Pretorius had a decent first series without offering anything exceptional. His economy rate of 3.15 speaks to the containing role that South Africa were looking to fill with a fourth seamer, and he played a part in some important lower-order partnerships. Whether Pretorius has all the skills to succeed Philander is doubtful, but South Africa deemed him important enough to stop him from signing a Kolpak deal on the eve of the series, so we can expect to see more of him in the future.
Pieter Malan (156 runs @ 26.00)
A resolute start on his debut, where Malan scored 84 in the second innings at Newlands, gave way to a forgettable final two Tests. Malan was out twice to spinners in Port Elizabeth, got a good ball from Mark Wood first-up at the Wanderers and then played a nothing shot off Chris Woakes in the second innings. All-in-all, it would appear Malan has wasted the opportunity to have a long run in the Test team, especially with South Africa desperate to find a permanent partner for Dean Elgar. On the evidence of this series, Malan is not it.
Dean Elgar (244 runs @ 30.50, 1 fifty)
Elgar has escaped a certain degree of scrutiny because the other end of the opening partnership has been so problematic but it won't be long before the spotlight turns to him. Although he scored 88 in Cape Town, the shot he played to be dismissed (a mow to mid-off against Dom Bess which Elgar described as a "brainfart") was a microcosm for a serious flaw in his game. Elgar's shot selections were not those of a senior player - from his playing across the line in Port Elizabeth to him flashing a short, wide ball straight to point and then pulling like a No.8 in Johannesburg - and underline what has become a problematic period in his career. South Africa needs players of Elgar's ilk to do better and overall, he had a disappointing series.
Vernon Philander (8 wickets at 26.62, 160 runs at 22.85)
Philander bowed out with South Africa at an all-time low but at the right time for himself. Though his 4 for 16 at SuperSport Park made it seem as though he still had years left in him, a disappointing performance in Port Elizabeth, where he went wicketless and only bowled 16 overs, made it clear that his time was up. He finished 10th on the overall wicket-takers' list in the series. In his final outing, Philander took two wickets in the first innings and then send down nine deliveries in the second before tearing his hamstring. He was also fined 15 percent of his match fee for giving Jos Buttler a send-off and a further 60 percent as part of South Africa's slow-over-rate penalty. Philander again showed with the bat that he had what it took to contribute more to the line-up, and he may look back on that as potential unfulfilled.
Dane Paterson (4 wickets at 41.50)
His new-ball performance in Port Elizabeth can best be described as flat, which did not give Paterson the best start to his Test career. An honest trier, Paterson does not appear quick enough to merit a place in the attack long-term, unless he can bring in some of his other much-talked about skills to the table. At domestic level, Paterson is known to move the ball off the seam and is vaunted for his accuracy, some of which we saw in the second ininngs at the Wanderers.
Faf du Plessis (151 runs @ 18.87)
In what could prove to be his last series, du Plessis was under immense pressure and it showed. His poor form from the India series bled into this one and he top-scored with 36, making it a year and 11 innings since he last scored a half-century. Usually, du Plessis has been to hide poor form behind strong leadership but even that let him down. His captaincy in the first innings in Port Elizabeth and during the tenth-wicket partnership in the first innings at Wanderers left him looking strategically wanting and has only increased questions over his future. Du Plessis' usually pleasant media mannerisms became visibly tetchy as the matches wore on, and he notched up a third successive series defeat.
Zubayr Hamza (78 runs at 13.00)
An eye-catching 39 at SuperSport Park suggested Hamza has the technique to develop into a strong No.3 for South Africa but perhaps not quite yet. He appeared tentative against teasing lengths in Cape Town and visibly afraid of the short ball in Port Elizabeth, where Mark Wood had his number. Hamza was left out of the Johannesburg Test and will need to find form domestically before he can be reconsidered.
Temba Bavuma (33 runs at 16.50)
The most-talked about man in the series, especially when he was not there, Bavuma was unable to repeat the heroics of four years ago, when he scored his only Test hundred to date against England. But he dominated the conversation nonetheless. He was injured for the first match and dropped for the next two, but made a career-best 180 to force his way back in for the finale. He was out for 6 in the first innings but struck a positive 27 off 29 balls in the second before receiving a snorter from Stuart Broad. Curiously, Bavuma's social media throughout the last four weeks has suggested he feels hard done by and has a point to prove. Now we have to wait for him to do that.
Aiden Markram (22 runs at 11)
After recovering from a broken hand (the result of punching something in the change-room during the India tour), Markram was strangled down the leg-side for 20 at Centurion, then struck on the pads for 2 before fracturing a finger and being ruled out for the rest of the series. The injury is not his fault but his lack of form is cause for concern. Markram has not scored fifty in seven innings and last scored a century almost two years ago. South Africa have big plans for him but they can't be fulfilled if his trajectory continues like this.
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent