At Durban, December 26-29, 2011. Sri Lanka won by 208 runs. Toss: Sri Lanka. Test debuts: M. de Lange; L. D. Chandimal.

Sri Lanka earned their first Test win in South Africa - a victory to stand comparison with their thumping of England at The Oval in 1998. This Test was the most surprising esult of the year. That said, South Africa had not won in the last three Tests at Kingsmead, and could not overcome their myriad mental blocks to change that.

South Africa's troubles began when Vernon Philander was ruled out with a knee injury picked up in training - and continued as Sri Lanka won the toss on a sun-dried pitch that was a far cry from the green mamba of local legend. Philander was replaced by 21-year- old giant Marchant de Lange - like Steyn from the Limpopo province - who had success in his second and third overs: he set up Paranavitana to nick a drive after a series of short balls, then had Sangakkara caught behind.

When Dilshan slog-swept Imran Tahir into the hands of fine leg, a familiar Sri Lankan collapse was on the cards. They were 84 for three and needed someone to plant roots. For four minutes short of six hours, Samaraweera did just that.

He demonstrated his comfort against spin, and resisted probing lines from all the South Africa seamers. Samaraweera, at 35 the oldest member of Sri Lanka's touring party, combined with the youngest, the 22-year-old debutant Dinesh Chandimal- replacing Silva behind the stumps - to build a priceless stand of 111. Chandimal's first scoring shot was an adrenalin-filled swat down the ground, and he nicked a leaden-footed drive to fall late in the day - but in between came an accomplished half-century.

Samaraweera battled cramps to end the day 14 runs away from a century, and it took him 16 overs to get there next morning. It was his 13th in Tests, and only his second outside the subcontinent, but it was worth the wait - and he pulled out a machine-gun celebration, perhaps surprising for a man once shot by terrorists in Lahore. He was only the second Sri Lankan to score a Test century in South Africa, after Hashan Tilleke- ratne at Centurion in 2002-03. Almost unnoticed, Jayawardene became the first Sri Lankan in their 30-year history to reach 10,000 Test runs.

The hostile de Lange ended the innings with three wickets in two overs to finish with seven for 81 - the best figures in Tests in 2011 and the second-best by a newcomer for South Africa since readmission. His riches were Steyn's misfortune: he went wicketless for the first time in 13 innings. South Africa were rolled for 168 - their lowest total against Sri Lanka - amid a bevy of poor shots.

Rudolph pulled to fine leg, Smith did not move his feet as he pushed at a length delivery, and Kallis edged a good ball from left-arm seamer Welagedara to second slip. Amla and de Villiers threatened to restore normal service, but Welagedera got rid of both after tea, and Herath took charge of the mopping up. Steyn was left to take South Africa past the follow-on target, and they ended the day where they started: in the field. Dilshan was profligate again, but Sri Lanka remained in a strong position to consolidate their 170- run lead.

Sangakkara was dropped on three by Smith in the first over of the third morning, and he made South Africa pay. After shrugging off the aggression of the bowlers he combined with Samaraweera and Chandimal, who went on to a second half-century - only the second wicketkeeper to do so on Test debut, after Dilawar Hussain of India in 1933-34. Sangakkara cut and drove with elegance to register his 28th Test hundred and first in South Africa, and soon after pushed Sri Lanka's lead over 400. He and Chandimal were dismissed within three balls of each other but, with time left in the game, Sri Lanka batted on. The tail fell to Steyn, who collected five wickets - but with South Africa needing 450, it was little consolation.

They reached lunch on the fourth day one down and with Amla in control. But four wickets fell in the next hour, including Kallis, who had to stomach a pair for the first time in his 149-Test career; Amla was run out as panic coursed through South Africa's line-up, and from 133 for six it seemed only a matter of time. Steyn resisted in an innings worthy of all-rounder status, during a partnership of 99 with de Villiers. But once Herath opened the gap, Sri Lanka leapt through. He used the old- fashioned virtues of accuracy and patience - with a couple of dismissals confirmed by the rather more modern DRS - to mop up the tail and secure a famous win.

It was Sri Lanka's first victory in nine Tests in South Africa, their first after five defeats since August 2010, and only their eighth ever without Muttiah Muralitharan. The presentation concluded with a gleeful Herath telling the local journalists that Sri Lanka had dug deep after defeat in Centurion. "We worked very hard and we tried our best," he said. "And that's why we are laughing."

Man of the Match: H. M. R. K. B. Herath.
Close of play: First day, Sri Lanka 289-7 (Samaraweera 86); Second day, Sri Lanka 7-1 (Paranavitana 0, Sangakkara 3); Third day, Sri Lanka 256-7 (Perera 6, Herath 5).

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent