At first, it was an innings defeat at Centurion and then at Johannesburg, it was a thrashing by 10 wickets. At Centurion, the Sri Lankans exhibited promise on the first day, but as soon as the team looked to reach the next level, fitness issues showed up and they lost their major performers. The outcome was bad and it was the same in Johannesburg.

The injuries felled around a third of their touring squad that included first-choice performers totally undermined the self-confidence of the side.

The T20 League back at home dented the preparations and later on, the injuries buried the hopes completely.

None of Sri Lanka’s players had played long-form cricket since July.

Despite all the setbacks, Vishwa Fernando showed a lot of spirit with the ball and had been instrumental in triggering a collapse when South Africa were well-poised at 218 for 1. The nine wickets fell for just 84 runs and what Sri Lanka needed was a fighting total in their second innings to give the bowlers something to defend.

Dimuth Karunaratne played a captain’s knock by notching a hundred while the rest failed to rally around him.

“A lot of players got injured, and I think that was the biggest thing we missed,” Karunaratne said after his team lost at The Wanderers.

“When we were playing without those injuries in the first Test, we were in the match and could potentially have won it. We got a good start, which is a difficult thing to achieve, and then we lost our bowlers. When you lose six or seven players, you do go into a negative mindset and that’s difficult. On these tracks, it’s a huge challenge.”

“As a captain, I’m really worried about the result. But at least we have some young talents we can use in the future. And there are a few positives from the series. Kusal Perera is in form. Vishwa Fernando, Asitha Fernando, and Wanindu Hasaranga also did well.”

“We did quite a few positive things, like score the most runs a Sri Lanka team has ever scored in South Africa [their first-innings total of 396 at Centurion], and also score more runs than any previous Sri Lanka teams at The Wanderers [their second-innings total of 211]. In patches, we played well, but we weren’t able to sustain that, partly because of the injuries.”

Karunaratne had hit the only ton for the Lankans on this tour and on a tough venue such as the Wanderers, this ton means a lot, but still, it was not enough for the team.

“Of course there’s sadness at the hundred not have taken us to a win. But playing for the first time after nine months, and batting with an injured finger, scoring some runs was a huge confidence boost for me.”

“I had missed out on getting starts on this tour. Previously when I was in South Africa that’s the one thing I had got – 20s or 30s – but I hadn’t been able to convert. I was also really nervous as I hadn’t played in a long time. It’s tough on these pitches for anybody. I looked at what my shortcomings were, and tried to fix them.”

“In the first 15 overs, I didn’t have any big plans. I just wanted to leave the ball well and play positively. Once I got set, I realized the way to play on these tracks is to be positive. On a pitch like this, a good ball can come at any time. I targeted certain bowlers and respected the ones I found difficult. I was really determined to score a hundred in this innings.”

England would tour Sri Lanka and the memories of the last series at home against the same opposition were not chummy. The Sri Lankans would be looking forward to erasing the memories of this tour and the previous meeting against the English with a fighting reply, but that would never be possible until and unless they fix their fitness issues.