South African eyes had to be rubbed and blinked, skins had to be pinched and photographs had to be taken to make sure it was real. 21 for 9 is not something you see on a scoreboard every day. Or any day, except November 10, 2011.

It has been two months and a day since those figures appeared on the scoreboard and already an arguably more incredulous feat has been achieved. When Sri Lanka teetered on 13 for 6, 24 for 7 and even 33 for 8, they were at risk of being bowled out for the lowest total in ODI history.

It would have been an ironic twist if they were, because they have inflicted the three current lowest totals on their opposition. Zimbabwe, who were skittled for 35 in 2003-04, have the lowest total, Canada, who managed 36 right here in Paarl in 2002-03 have the second lowest and Zimbabwe feature again, this time with 38. Sri Lanka now find themselves next on the list with their 43, a feat that will have them hanging their heads in shame.

AB de Villiers had a teasing glint in his eye when he was asked about seeing those numbers appear in lights but tempered his response when describing what it felt like looking at them. "It was good, the plans came together," he said. "I asked the boys to come in with the new ball and to strike. They really ran in as a force and it worked out well."

South Africa had not seen the Paarl pitch before they arrived to play the match, having chosen to train in Cape Town the day before. In scorching heat, they quickly worked out that an already dry, flat surface would need more than just an ordinary effort.

"We knew that we'd have to run in and hit the deck hard," de Villiers said. "That's the key on these kinds of tracks, then you can get out of it what you want. We did have a bit of seam movement, which we didn't expect, but we also saw Dale not clocking in below 140 kph. It was aggressive and we had intent all the time."

Morne Morkel and Lonwabo Tsotsobe put Sri Lanka out of the match faster than a rush of cold air does a candle and they did so using basic principles of bounce and seam. Morkel raced to career-best figures, a welcome turn-around from his sketchy summer form that has seen question marks arise around his role in the team.

"I started off slowly this season but I knew in the back of my mind that a special performance was around the corner," Morkel said. "[It came on] On AB's debut [as full-time one-day captain] and he a close friend of mine, so it was a special feeling to be able to do it now. We had simple plans that we wanted to execute and I think we did that well."

Morkel was not the only member in the team who was motivated to give that little bit extra for the new captain. Centurion Hashim Amla also had a welcoming gift for de Villiers, with the ninth hundred of his career. "He [Amla] is a rock," de Villiers said. "We made a joke before we started, when he came to me and said congratulations on the captaincy. I said to him, 'You will make a lot easier if you score a hundred'. Obviously he took that to heart."

With a squad that is firing with bat and ball, de Villiers' introduction to leadership was as smooth as they come. Instead of relishing that, he admitted to being a little let-down - he had expected more of a challenge. "It wasn't the test I was hoping for, I wasn't tested at all," he said. "It was all attack, from the beginning to the end. My real test will come when we under pressure. Tonight was really easy, but I know it will get a lot harder."

De Villiers could easily get lost in the euphoria of a crushing win, but he is making a conscious effort to keep his feet on the ground and make sure the rest of his squad does so as well. "I have played this game long enough to know that this is not the time to get excited," he said. "We've got another ODI coming up soon and we have a lot of work to do."

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent