As much as South Africa succeeded in scoring the runs and taking the wickets they needed to beat Sri Lanka, they also managed to make use of home advantage by blunting the opposition's biggest threat. Unusually, the most spinner-friendly surface in the country offered little turn and barely deteriorated despite a severe dry spell in the lead-up to the match but that was all part of the South African plan to take Rangana Herath out of the game.

"The groundsman got it spot on," Faf du Plessis said. "We asked him for a wicket that didn't spin right through the innings - that moved around on the first innings and didn't spin on day four and five. So it's great wicket that he prepared."

Adrian Carter, the St George's Park groundsman, left a much thicker grass covering on than he normally does, in the hope the pitch would hold together for five days. As a result, the teams got what du Plessis called a "new-ball wicket," where there was a little bit of movement on the first day, as Suranga Lakmal proved, but that became better for batting as the match went on. By the fourth and fifth day, it was still flat and South Africa's attack had toil in the absence of any reverse swing.

But that was the devil they knew and chose, opting to make their lives more difficult with ball in hand because they did not want to take the chance of it becoming impossible when batting. "You can either choose a green wicket or one that's good for batting and then it will spin later but against a team like this it's important that you nullify their strengths, which is spin bowling," du Plessis said. "As a batting unit, we are not scared of batting on a green top, so we will choose going on something that looked a bit greener than something that look a bit more brown."

That there were no bare patches to help scuff up the ball also meant du Plessis did not have to resort to any outlandish ball-shining strategies and he was seen to pass the duties on to the likes of Hashim Amla, Dean Elgar, Stephen Cook and Temba Bavuma. Du Plessis admitted he enjoyed keeping his hands out of the sweet jar, for now.

"I didn't shine the ball with a sweet in my mouth this Test match," he said. "It's still something that's fine. I spoke to the umpires before the Test to get some clarity on it and they said its fine, they are not going to stop the game, but it's about making sure it's not obvious. But I also did take a step back and make sure the other guys also had the responsibility of shining the balls. It gave me an opportunity to make sure my head is really in the game."

Having his focus trained on the field was important for South Africa because they needed to combine patience with proper planning if they wanted to make things happen in the Sri Lanka second innings. Du Plessis set attacking fields, asked his bowlers to put in long spells and remain accurate while also knowing the target was chaseable so they could not let it slip. The role of left-arm spinner Keshav Maharaj was important as it allowed Kyle Abbott, Vernon Philander and Kagiso Rababa to rotate.

"They had a few soft wickets and if they didn't do that and batters had put their hands up, they could have chased this score down," du Plessis said. "But Vernon, Kyle and KG are doing an amazing job. For Kyle to step into Dale's shoes and do as well as Dale has done for this team is amazing. Every time he plays a game he is incredibly consistent. Even though KG wasn't as quick as he would like - you are not going to always be on song - Vernon put his hand up as he always does on a green top."

Du Plessis played down concerns over Rabada being down on pace - he only occasionally got over the 140kph-mark - as a result of fatigue and brushed off suggestions he needed a rest. "Mentally and physically, he is fine," du Plessis said. "If he played all the domestic T20 games I would have maybe had a different answer but I think he has had his rest and he is ready to go."

Instead, he laid the challenge on the batsmen to continue the search of consistency. "I spoke about it before the Test. I feel we are batting really well as a unit but it comes in individual greatness and I feel we can do a little bit more as a unit. It's about lifting that bar a little higher and not being happy with getting to 300 and winning the game but actually pushing it to 400. In the first innings, we had fifty runs as a batting unit, left in the tank. It's about not settling."

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent