Five minutes before lunch on the third day New Zealand were close to some sort of redemption. They trailed South Africa by 73 runs and had six wickets in hand. Although they did not have much to come with the bat, the possibility that they could avoid an innings defeat was dawning.

They knew a new ball was due. They knew it would be a challenge. They knew they had to see it off. And Dean Brownlie, their best performer of the match by some distance, could not do it.

Graeme Smith had specifically placed a deep point to collect his cut and with the extra bounce, Brownlie couldn't keep his favourite shot down. It opened New Zealand up and then it was only a matter of time and margin, nothing else.

Maybe it was better that it happened that way. If Brownlie had kept going, notched up a score in excess of 150, ushered Watling passed a half-century, erased the deficit and helped New Zealand force South Africa to bat again, the defeat (and barring miracles it would still have been defeat) could have been tinged with some kind of sense of achievement.

It may have papered over some of New Zealand significant problems. Instead, it's allowed them to continue feeling the same severe soreness they experienced since the first hour on Wednesday. "It is disappointing to lose a Test match inside three days. It hurts immensely. There are some very disappointed boys in the changeroom and that hasn't changed," the captain Brendon McCullum said.

There is one thing the captain has done very well on this tour so far and that is look worried. That also hasn't changed. McCullum is obviously embarrassed by the team's first innings effort and he should be. But in the overall gloom, Brownlie has given them something to take out of the match.

It was not his technique that was overly convincing, it was his temperament. He withstood two dropped catches - a sign that some part of his technique could do with some polishing - a review and a bizarre bail removal. All of those could have rattled his confidence and he did not let them. He just dug in and carried on.

He did not have the same immense concentration of Watling, who did not get frustrated by a lack of runs and continued to defend, walk away, come back and defend again. His approach was more positive as he continued to look for ways to move the scoreboard forward. He took on Robin Peterson when the left-arm spinner decided to give the ball some air. He tried to bat as though he did not have any fear and for most of his innings, he had us convinced.

What Brownlie showed, like Kane Williamson in Wellington, but what wasn't clear on the first morning, is that there is heart in the New Zealand line-up. Importantly Brownlie demonstrated that it beats in players other than the ones people most expected it too. When South Africa toured New Zealand in March, Brownlie's comeback from a fractured finger was much anticipated. He scored 29, looked tentative and was easy to forget.

But there is much hope being invested in him. Locals spoke about him becoming an integral part of the middle order with Williamson and Ross Taylor. In the absence of the latter, he has had to step into his place, accept more responsibility and keep the fiercest attack in world cricket at bay.

For more than four and half hours he did that. Had it been to save the match, he would have been hailed a hero. But Vernon Philander reminded why he cannot be, for now. "With the intensity of our bowling attack, we are going to exploit weaknesses. And when he gave his wicket away, it opened up the tail."

Philander is known for telling it like it is and callous as his comment sounds that is how it was. South Africa had the advantage of the new ball and a bowler who can make a pancake bounce but Brownlie threw it away when he shouldn't have. Less than session later it was over although it could have been far, far worse.

New Zealand still lost a Test match inside three days. They were still bowled out for their third-lowest total in their history and they still gave a poorer account of themselves than was expected. Yet, they also had a reason to be relieved after all of that.

Brownlie has added some layers to his reputation and will need to kick on. He has also given New Zealand some hope ahead of the next match. "Our second innings will never rid the memory of 45," McCullum admitted. "That will stay with us forever. But it has shown us that we are capable of absorbing pressure." Pressure that they will be under again next Friday.

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent