Johannesburg - AB de Villiers may have been named man-of-the-series after South Africa concluded their battle against Sri Lanka on Sunday, but the Proteas captain was a happy man for another reason.
GALLERY: SA v SL - 5th ODI
His predecessor and close friend Graeme Smith had returned to form and showed his hand with a fine 125 off 143 balls.
It was not enough to win the fifth Sunfoil one-day international as they went down by two wickets at the Bidvest Wanderers Stadium in Johannesburg, but De Villiers was just thrilled with himself for having never lost belief in Smith.
“I told the press that he was going to come through, and I'm very happy for my man,” the skipper said afterward. “Biff did extremely well.
“His feet are still on the ground but deep inside I can see that he is very proud and we are all very proud of him. That's the least he deserved today.”
Smith’s century was the first in over two years, with his last one coming against England during the 2009 Champions Trophy.
It also came on the back of his highest score in 18 innings in the previous game at Kimberley on Friday night.
Smith made a determined 68 in that game and it was the first step towards silencing his critics, with his knock in Johannesburg then showing he is still one of the most dangerous openers around.
For his part, De Villiers struck a flamboyant 125 off 98 balls as South Africa racked up an imposing 312 for four.
But the Proteas’ weakened attack, minus the rested Dale Steyn and Jacques Kallis, found Sri Lanka in a daunting mood as they chased down the total with a ball to spare, thanks to Kumar Sangakkara (102) and Lahiru Thirimanne (69).
De Villiers, whose side won the series 3-2, added: “Things have been going my way and I’m delighted with my form at the moment.
“We have a lot to work on before touring New Zealand next month, but I am very happy with the way the team fought to the end.”
Sri Lanka captain Tillakaratne Dilshan was pleased with the way his side had come back in the last two games, especially after their mauling at Paarl to start the series.
“We came back strongly at the end of our tour and needed to prove a point after being bowled out for 43 in the first ODI,” he said.
“Chasing 313 runs for victory meant it was always going to be tight and I am so proud of my team.
“We had a fantastic time in South Africa and it was just a pity that we lost the test and one-day series narrowly.”
Despite their defeats in both legs of the tour, the Sri Lankans can take a lot of heart as they also became the first team from their land to win a test match in South Africa after they thrashed the hosts in Durban to draw level at 1-1.
Dilshan, who possibly captained the team for the last time after an overhaul of cricket administration in that country over the past week,
added: “Before we came here everyone thought we were the underdog but we proved we are one of the best sides in the world, especially in one-dayers.
“Hopefully, we can carry this performance into the next few tours.”