For most of this series, it appeared as if no South Africa batsman would bat for 100 balls in an innings, let alone score a century. Even getting to triple figures as a team seemed difficult enough. On the last day of the series, though, two relatively new batsmen saved some face for the visitors. Theunis de Bruyn and Temba Bavuma put on 123 together - South Africa's best partnership of the series by a distance.

De Bruyn then went on to score his maiden Test hundred, in his sixth Test, in a series in which much more senior men had failed dramatically. He had had a feeling he just might manage a breakthrough in Sri Lanka, after having made only modest scores in his five previous Tests.

"It's been quite a journey - it's been tough. My international career didn't start the way I wanted it to," he said. "But I just had a bit of calmness landing in the airport here in Sri Lanka. As we drove to the hotel, I looked at the ocean and said to myself: 'Yep, there could be something special.' As a team, it wasn't special, but for me it was special."

De Bruyn was especially effective square of the wicket against the spinners, employing the sweep, which he said he had learned in South Africa's spin camps. He batted 232 balls all up, which made his the longest innings of the series, even if it wasn't the biggest in terms of runs.

"Back home you don't need the sweep, because we play on bouncier wickets and you can play spinners down the ground," he said. "But here, you know they're bowling in good areas, and the wickets don't bounce as much. The sweep is a better option.

"For me, it was important to get the fielders out on the boundary, early on - especially with the new ball. If you're just defending, it can be difficult. So if you put the bowlers slightly under pressure, you can get the fielders out. I didn't know it was going to take that long to get a hundred. They just don't let you go. They keep on bowling very accurately. It's Test cricket. It's not easy."

Bavuma was the more positive partner during their long partnership, making 63 off 98 balls before a spitting Rangana Herath delivery took the outside edge. Bavuma's was the only other fifty-plus score for South Africa in this series.

"Temba actually came in and played quite comfortably," de Bruyn said. "He scored runs all the way through his innings and could start ticking over the strike. I think we almost had the same game plan - to sweep a lot and reverse sweep, and hit your ones over the legside. I think we both learned a lot over the last few hours, playing against the Sri Lankan spinners on this wicket."

De Bruyn had batted lower down the order in his earlier jaunts in Test cricket but said he felt more comfortable at No. 3, where he bats in domestic cricket.

"For me, it does make a difference batting at No. 3. I've batted there my whole career, even as a youngster. The waiting game when you're batting at six and seven mentally drains you - I don't know, I'm not used to it. But I wanted to do really well batting at No. 3. It's a place I really cherish and I'd like to make it my own one day if I get more opportunities."

Andrew Fidel Fernando is ESPNcricinfo's Sri Lanka correspondent. @andrewffernando