The only number that matters for Proteas after the Sri Lanka series

South African batsmen Theunis de Bruyn (L) and Temba Bruvma (R) taking a single during day 4 of the 2nd Test match between Sri Lanka and South Africa at Sinhalese Sports Club Ground on July 23, 2018 in Colombo Sri Lanka.
South African batsmen Theunis de Bruyn (L) and Temba Bruvma (R) taking a single during day 4 of the 2nd Test match between Sri Lanka and South Africa at Sinhalese Sports Club Ground on July 23, 2018 in Colombo Sri Lanka.
Image: Isuru Sameera Peiris/AFP/Gallo Images

Of all the facts and figures that will swirl into the consciousness in the wake of South Africa crashing to another comprehensive defeat in Sri Lanka‚ one matters most.

Here it is: Theunis de Bruyn faced only 61 fewer deliveries in South Africa’s second innings in Colombo than the rest of his teammates combined.

It matters less that slow left-armer Rangana Herath took 6/98‚ and less that Sri Lanka won by 199 runs with a day and more to spare.

Even less that South Africa have now lost just three of their past 19 series on the road‚ a story of success that goes back almost 11 years.

It’s more important that all of those reversals have happened in less than three years‚ but De Bruyn’s feat still towers.

“He showed it’s possible to get runs in these conditions‚” Faf du Plessis told a television interviewer after the Lankans wrapped up their win inside an hour after lunch on Monday.

Runs? They’re not nearly as important as balls faced for batsmen in the sub-continent.

Alastair Cook is the world champion. Or at least the non-sub-continental world champion.

No-one who has played Tests for teams other than India‚ Pakistan‚ Sri Lanka‚ Bangladesh or‚ these days‚

Afghanistan has faced more than the Englishman’s total of 6 053.

Jacques Kallis and Hashim Amla are next on the list with 4 672 and 4 309.

No foreign player has had more than Cook’s 55 innings in Asia no scored more runs than his 2 710‚ but Ricky Ponting had four more trips to the crease there Kallis — and scored fewer 169 runs than the South African.

Ah‚ runs: De Bruyn made 101‚ his maiden century in his 12th Test innings.

He offered one chance‚ to the 35th delivery he faced‚ when he swept off-spinner Dilruwan Perera onto his pad and sent what would have been a fine catch towards leg gully — who leapt and palmed the ball into the outfield.

Four deliveries after reaching his century with a tickled four to fine leg off Herath‚ De Bruyn shouldered arms to a ball that left the bowler’s hand looking like it would turn away from the right-hander and gave no hint as it travelled through the air that it would not.

But it didn’t zig after pitching. Instead it zagged towards De Bruyn‚ whose bat remained high and mighty even as the clatter behind him told him‚ rudely‚ his day was done.

Herath‚ who has added a layer of grey hair to his boep to make it only more obvious that he is a kindly uncle teaching the kids a thing or two in a game of park cricket‚ unleashed another of the imploding reverse fist pumps that serve as his quaint celebration.

For the rest of his innings‚ De Bruyn was the epitome of the patience and discipline South Africa have sorely lacked.

He did not play in the first Test in Galle‚ but of those who did Dean Elgar and Temba Bavuma showed that they had‚ in the modern player’s phrase‚ “taken learnings”: Elgar was there for 80 balls in the second innings and Bavuma for 98.

De Bruyn? He faced 232 — more than twice as many as any of his compatriots in all four of South Africa’s innings in the series.

Whichever way you look at it‚ that’s a big number.

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