New Zealand clueless against high-quality pace
New Zealand were expected to be overwhelmed. They were expected to struggle. They were expected to get taught a thing or two. But they were not expected to be this bad.
They were not expected to stand at the crease with their legs only as good as painted on. They were not expected to hang their bats out to dry. They were not expected to field as though their souls had left their bodies and as though there were no soles at the bottom of their feet either.
They know that their performance on day one was far below expectation and that there are no excuses that can explain it away. "We weren't anywhere near where we need to be with the bat," a straight-faced Brendon McCullum admitted.
"It's sombre. There are some really hurt boys in our change-room. We had such high hopes coming into this game. To have put on the performance we did today, everyone is hurting immensely. It's not a good day for anyone involved in our team at the moment.
"You certainly don't question anyone's performance but none of us wanted it enough today. We've got to turn up tomorrow and try and get the job done with the ball. We're still capable of performing at this level but we are going to have to improve our performance on today."
Admission, acceptance and anger. McCullum even skipped denial as he went through all the stages of grief in a single day. At the heart of the matter: that New Zealand were just not good enough. It was not under-preparation that affected them even though the tour-match in Paarl was played on a completely different surface nor was it being mentally spooked.
New Zealand's implosion inside 20 overs was an illustration of the gulf between the No. 1 ranked side in the world and the No. 8 ranked one. Scarily, that division is wider than should be acceptable or comfortable. They are in two different leagues.
As poor as New Zealand's footwork and shot selection was, South Africa's attack and one of them in particular, Vernon Philander, was relentless, piercing and hostile. Back on his home turf after a leaner patch away than he wants to admit, Philander was charged up after having recovered from injury in time to play and having the chance to restore the reputation he built here. He went back to the same basics that worked for him before. Consistent length, nagging line outside the offstump and the ability to make the ball move just enough to cause indecision in the batsman's minds.
In five overs, Philander had five wickets and from there New Zealand could not recover. "The spell we saw from Philander was as good a spell as you're ever likely to see in Test cricket," McCullum said. "He never missed his length and asked questions defensively. In terms of defending his stumps, he also managed to get the odd ball to kiss away. It was a real class spell and then [Morne] Morkel and [Dale] Steyn chipped in with their hostility."
Steyn, who was after a milestone, and Morkel were left with only scraps. Instead of treating them with disrespect, they fought over them with the hunger of starving men tussling over the last piece of bread. They underlined South Africa's relentlessness, which Jacques Kallis said now functions at its peak. They made a pitch that only had a little bit of juice in it in the morning look like it was flooding with moisture simply because they had the right skills to exploit the movement when it was there and keep the pressure on when it was not. "The wicket didn't warrant the score," Kallis said. It was South Africa's bowling, not the strip, that made the 45 all out.
Some of South Africa's motivation going in to this series was to justify their No.1 ranking. The only way they can do that against an opposition as out of their depth as New Zealand is to not allow them anything. In short, South Africa feel they have to demoralise New Zealand as mercilessly as they did today.
Theirs was a showing so clinical that it was tough to separate whether New Zealand were as deficient as they looked or South Africa were as dominant. It was more a case of the combination of the two that made the differences so stark. "It was a poor batting performance coupled with an outstanding bowling performance," McCullum said.
And that was only after the first 20 overs.
New Zealand came back for an over, when Doug Bracwell had Graeme Smith out for 1 but then Alviro Petersen, partnered by Hashim Amla and Jacques Kallis continued to take the game away from them. That is where New Zealand sit now. Those who did not buy tickets for day four know their decision was the right one.
The match could well end in two days and all New Zealand can do is try to claw back some respect. "The real challenge is to turn up tomorrow and try and get a job done. We've got to bowl them out and then we've got the opportunity to bat and bat for our lives," McCullum said. "We've got to put in a performance that is worthy of New Zealand cricket." The problem for them is that South Africa are after the same thing.
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent