A fighting Dean Brownlie century shone like a beacon amid the gloom of another innings defeat for New Zealand, inside three days against South Africa.
After Brownlie's maiden test hundred (109) and determined backup from BJ Watling (42), the end arrived quickly as South Africa wrapped up the first test by an innings and 27 runs, just before tea on the third day at Newlands. A big crowd on a stunning day had to file out of the ground before 3pm.
It was New Zealand's fifth defeat from their last six tests and a brutal way to start Brendon McCullum's captaincy tenure.
The tourists lost their last five wickets for 23 as South African quick Dale Steyn produced a frightening late spell, pinning both James Franklin (22) and Jeetan Patel (8) as New Zealand were dismissed for 275 in 102.1 overs.
It was a welcome fightback from Brownlie and Watling but only delayed the inevitable after the tourists' darkest day when they were shot out for 45, after winning the toss and choosing to bat. Home captain Graeme Smith admitted he would have bowled first.
"Clearly it's disappointing. To lose a test match inside three days hurts immensely and there's a very disappointed bunch of lads in the changing room, I said it after day one and that hasn't changed," McCullum said.
"It [the second innings] will never rid the memory of the 45, it'll stay with us forever. What it has done is shown us that we are capable of absorbing pressure against this team and capable of exerting some pressure back on them. There are some small positives there."
Trailing by 302 on the first innings, New Zealand looked like they might have the small satisfaction of making the hosts bat again after Brownlie and Watling nearly got through the first session.
Resuming on 169-4, the pair added 74 with some stoic defence against the world's best pace attack, and occasional punishment from Brownlie who latched onto anything short and wide.
In his eighth test, and first since being dropped in the West Indies in August, Brownlie passed his previous best of 77 not out against Australia and raced into the 90s with a six off spinner Robin Peterson.
He charged again, hitting Peterson for six over long off to complete a memorable century off 160 balls, including 13 fours and two sixes. Brownlie became the 10th New Zealand batsman to score a test century in South Africa.
But the turning point arrived soon afterwards when Brownlie fell into South Africa's trap, and cut Morne Morkel in the air to deep point in the first over with the second new ball. It signalled the beginning of the end but McCullum was full of praise for Brownlie, a late recall after Peter Fulton's knee injury.
"Dean was brilliant. It was a high quality innings and hopefully will be the start of the very successful career for him. To come out against the No 1 team in the world in the situation we were in and play a reasonably counter attacking innings in trying circumstances was a fabulous effort."
Wicketkeeper Watling batted 211 minutes and faced 151 balls as his experience as an opener showed. He defended stoutly and looked the part but was finally undone by first innings destroyer Vernon Philander with one that nipped away.
Franklin batted 103 minutes for 22 but with New Zealand's long tail was always pushing uphill.
Philander was named man of the match after his first innings 5-7, and seven wickets for the test, while Steyn took 5-85 for the match and notched his 300th test wicket, and 50th against New Zealand.
The tourists now have six days to regroup, repair the mental scars and hit the nets before the second and final test in Port Elizabeth which starts on Friday.
Smith was delighted with South Africa's performance as the world No 1 team started 2013 with a bang.
"We bowled really well and the wicket on day one produced a lot more for us than it did yesterday and today. We needed to be disciplined and we stuck to our guns well," Smith said.
"Brownlie's hundred was an excellent hundred, we created a few chances that we put down that could have enable us to get over the line a bit earlier. We toiled hard and bowled them out under 300 both times which is good."
Scoreboard on the third day of the first test between South Africa and New Zealand at Newlands:
First innings 45
First innings 347 for eight declared
M Guptill c Amla b Steyn 0
B McCullum lbw b Peterson 51
K Williamson c Petersen b Kallis 15
D Brownlie c Peterson b Morkel 109
D Flynn c de Villiers b Kallis 14
BJ Watling c Smith b Philander 42
J Franklin b Steyn 22
D Bracewell c Petersen b Philander 0
J Patel b Steyn 8
T Boult not out 2
C Martin run out 0
Extras (b-1 lb-8 w-3) 12
Total (all out, 102.1 overs) 275
Fall of wickets: 1-0 2-29 3-118 4-155 5-229 6-252 7-252 8-265 9-274 10-275
Bowling: Steyn 30-6-67-3, Philander 24-8-76-2 (1w), Morkel 21-6-50-1 (1w), Kallis 11.1-3-31-2 (1w), Peterson 16-6-42-1
New Zealand won the toss and elected to bat
Result: South Africa won by an innings and 27 runs
- © Fairfax NZ News