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It probably wasn't the latter because the Black Caps have had too many bad days in recent times, but this was undoubtedly another one. They were dismissed for just 86 - their third-worst total in Twenty20 cricket history - and South Africa romped home in 12.1 overs for the loss of just two wickets in the first of three T20 internationals.
There had been a smidgen of optimism that New Zealand would be able to compete with the hosts in the shortest format of the game, particularly as both sides had a number of new faces, the Black Caps convincingly won a warmup game against South Africa A and anything can happen in Twenty20 cricket.
New Zealand's capitulation, however, was a sadly familiar tale. They were often the architects of their own downfall as they adopted an aggressive approach and it was largely left to the four debutants to try salvage something.
They slumped to 36-6 and only Colin Munro (23) and Doug Bracewell (21) ensured they passed the 80 New Zealand scored against Pakistan in Christchurch in 2010 and 81 against Sri Lanka in Lauderhill the same year.
It wasn't the way Brendon McCullum wanted to start his stint as New Zealand captain since the Ross Taylor saga but he said they were simply too aggressive.
"We obviously wanted to be aggressive today and we wanted to put South Africa under pressure right from the get-go but I think we learned a little bit about earning the right to do that," he said.
"[We also learned] that you have to stick to your fundamentals first and foremost and give yourselves that opportunity and platform to then be aggressive.
"It's something we will definitely take out of this game. We were a little over-keen to put some pressure on South Africa from the outset."
The reverse happened as batsmen came and went in a steady procession. Most hit across the line or chose inopportune moments to try to attack the bowling and they didn't really adapt to what was often a two-paced wicket.
Even as the wickets continued to fall, the Black Caps refused to deviate from their attacking intent and it was only when they were 60-8 did Bracewell and Roni Hira try to accumulate a little more.
It gave the bowlers precious little to work with. Mitchell McClenaghan was dangerous early, snaring the wicket of Richard Levi in the first over, but Henry Davids (20), Faf du Plessis (38 not out) and Quinton de Kock (28 not out) quickly took the game away from New Zealand.
The Black Caps have little time to dwell on the match, with the second Twenty20 international in East London on Monday morning (NZT), and McCullum said they would be better.
"[We want] to ensure we continue with our aggressive intent but make sure we stick to the fundamentals and give ourselves a real opportunity before we try to put the hammer down," he said.
"I know we will be better for the experience and in 48 hours' time we will definitely put in a much better performance. We definitely believe we can win that game."
They will hope both Martin Guptill and Trent Boult overcome the stomach bug that kept them out of this morning's game but otherwise coach Mike Hesson will need to stick with his largely inexperienced side.
It's not the end of the world but the Black Caps have to improve significantly.
- Michael Brown of APNZ