The expectations were not exceedingly high but reasonable that the team would put up a fight.
However, the playing XI, which was made up of six debutants, was no match for the Black Caps this week.
Despite the presence of capped batters Zubayr Hamza, Keegan Petersen and David Bedingham, the batting unit managed only 162 and 247 against New Zealand’s 511 and 179-4 declared.
SA Test coach Shukri Conrad called on Hamza, Petersen and Bedingham to start putting up big numbers as the most experienced batters in the team, despite the fact that they only have a handful of caps.
“We’re expecting a lot from Zuby (Hamza), KP (Petersen) and Bedders (Bedingham), if the truth be told. They’ve been around a bit longer than others, so we’re expecting a lot from them,” Conrad told the media.
“KP played really well on day four, and in the first dig as well. But playing well has got to start playing itself out into runs scored as well.
“They are still there and thereabouts obviously, and are the guys that are either in the squad or on the fringes.”
South Africa’s flawless Test record over New Zealand hangs by a thread, as the Black Caps lead the series 1-0 ahead of the second Test, which starts at Seddon Park in Hamilton on Tuesday.
After a defeat of this nature, it is almost natural to jump to conclusions about the players’ abilities or lack thereof, and to even start questioning the strength of the pipeline from which they come.
But it is almost sinful to draw such conclusions, more so given the inexperience of the touring 15-man squad.
Batters Neil Brand, Eddie Moore and Raynard van Tonder fell short in the first Test, but are known to be top achievers in South African domestic structures.
However, Test cricket is a steep step up from first-class cricket. The first Test was a rude awakening for the debutants.
“We produce really good cricketers, and yes, there are areas where it can improve. But I think we’ve got to provide context here that all of these guys are inexperienced at this level,” Conrad said.
“Yes, they have heaps of first-class experience, but there’s a massive gap between Test cricket and first-class cricket anywhere in the world, and not just in South Africa.”
The only logical conclusion to draw from such a defeat is that perhaps the players need to be up-skilled to better handle the pressure of playing at the highest level.
Conrad told the media that, as coaches, they try to make the players understand the importance of simplicity in their approach, instead of committing self-sabotage by trying too hard to impress.
“Pressure does a hell of (a lot of) things to you. You have all of these game plans, you’ve done everything, and then the harsh reality strikes,” he said.
“As coaches, we try to bring clarity. We try to keep them calm and we try to simplify things.
“I think very often guys come to this level and feel that silver bullets need to be landing from all over, where in fact all you do is simplify matters.
“It’s not easy to say go out and back yourself when your every move is being magnified, and your technique is being cut to shreds on TV and elsewhere.
“This is what the harsh reality of Test cricket is, and this is what the players are going to have to deal with.”