That is not to say that England would definitely have won had South Africa been given first dig on a damp, grassy pitch in marginal light. But, as Hussain pointed out afterwards, it would have tested just how far his combination of young thrusters and salty campaigners had come, following a build-up that had brought genuine optimism and spirit.
"Losing is a set-back, definitely," said Hussain. "I said going into this game that the first session of the first day of the first Test would be crucial and all three went against us.
"For a new set of lads making their debuts, to be so severely tested first up, in conditions like that, was really tough. But hopefully it will be character building and we can learn from the way some of their players coped."
Despite the margin - it is only the second time in 116 Tests that South Africa have beaten England by an innings - defeat can be taken lightly. All evidence suggests it will not be and, by having net practice just an hour after Alan Mullally had sealed defeat by edging Shaun Pollock to third slip, England showed they clearly had frustrations to work off.
For those who simply feel outraged by another loss, the small print of mitigating factors will be of little interest. And yet, is it truly realistic to expect a side widely claimed to be the worst in the world, to beat a team adjudged second only to Australia, especially when they are caught on the wrong side of a crucial toss?
To sharpen the focus further, this was South Africa's 10th successive win at home, a record that supersedes even countries like India, whose dominance in their own backyard is virtually a law of nature.
Defeat, if becoming something of a habit for England, is not getting any easier to take. In this instance, though, it was not entirely self- inflicted, and any soul searching ought to be limited to that of the groundsman, Chris Scott, whose damp first-day pitch was in direct contravention of ICC directives.
Hussain will make his own views known in his captain's report, a document never made public but which hinted that the pitch had been a huge influence on the result.
"The pitch was there and it was damp," said Hussain. "You can't not start a game, so you just get on and do it. Unfortunately it was us who had the bat in our hands.
"The point of Test cricket," he added, "is to have an even contest between bat and ball. It should also bring all forms of technique and talent, such as spin, into the game.
"You sit there and watch, and it's a three-day game again. The ball is going over the keeper, shooting along the ground and going sideways and you've got Donald, Pollock, Gough and Caddick running in. It's interesting cricket, but I don't think it is the sort of cricket purists want to see."
Gough, incidentally, is on a hat-trick after Hansie Cronje declared following the dismissals of Pollock and Allan Donald in successive balls on Saturday.
Considering England's players ply their trade at county level on pitches every bit as bad, perhaps they should have made a better fist of things. Mistakes were made, mainly in the length and line bowled by England's three front-line bowlers and South Africa should never really have sniffed 400 with the bat. Caddick, in particular, will not have been happy with just a single wicket on a pitch that helped seam throughout the game.
The tall Somerset man is a talented bowler who beat the bat consistently. Unfortunately, he did not force the batsmen to play often enough, a fault more of his length, which was two yards too short, than of his line. Herschelle Gibbs proved particularly adept at leaving the ball and both he and Daryll Cullinan batted extremely well when the pressure was on.
For England, only Alec Stewart, with 86 in the second innings, came close to matching their chutzpah, though he batted almost entirely when the sun was out, a factor that seemed to calm the lively pitch. Andy Flintoff and Michael Vaughan also showed both stomach and skill for the fight and for once England's tail-end managed a wag.
Further succour can also be taken from the fact that after his second pair in successive overseas Tests - he bagged them in Melbourne last winter before pulling out of the Sydney Test - Michael Atherton's Test scores can only get better. The irony between this match and the one here four years ago is about as extreme as it gets, and his only consolation was that both balls were nigh on unplayable.
With England beginning the day on 188 for 7, play ended much as it began, with Donald and Pollock wreaking havoc. After Paul Adams had removed Flintoff for 36 - a wicket that prevented the opening bowlers from sharing all 20 - Pollock ended proceedings by dismissing Caddick, who made his highest Test score of 48, and Mullally, with the second new ball.
By sharing 19 England wickets between them, the pair have shown not only how they justify their billing as the top two fast bowlers in world cricket, but just how reliant their team is upon them, especially when Jacques Kallis is unable to bowl.
If the lack of back-up was not a problem here, it could become one and the South African selectors have included both David Terbrugge and Mornantau Hayward in the squad for the next Test at Port Elizabeth in 11 days time.
Neither are experienced and providing England can get past the new ball spell of Donald and Pollock without being four or five wickets down, all is not gloom and this series may still be alive come the millennium.
Henry Blofeld, page 11
ENGLAND'S DOWNHILL RUN
Opponents Venue Result England capt
Aug 1998 Sri Lanka The Oval lost by 10 wkts A J Stewart
Nov 1998 Australia Brisbane Draw A J Stewart
Nov 1998 Australia Perth lost by 7 wkts A J Stewart
Dec 1998 Australia Adelaide lost by 205 runs A J Stewart
Dec 1998 Australia Melbourne won by 12 runs A J Stewart
Jan 1999 Australia Sydney lost by 98 runs A J Stewart
July 1999 New Zealand Edgbaston won by 7 wkts N Hussain
July 1999 New Zealand Lord's lost by 9 wkts N Hussain
Aug 1999 New Zealand Old Trafford Draw M A Butcher
Aug 1999 New Zealand The Oval lost by 83 runs N Hussain
Nov 1999 South Africa Johannesburg lost by innings
and 21 runs N Hussain
Fourth day; South Africa won toss
ENGLAND - First Innings 122 (A A Donald 6-53, S M Pollock 4-16).
SOUTH AFRICA - First Innings 403 for 9 dec (H H Gibbs 85, D J Cullinan 108, L Klusener 72; D Gough 5-70).
ENGLAND - Second Innings
(Overnight: 188 for 7)
M A Butcher lbw b Donald 32
220 min, 138 balls, 4 fours
M A Atherton c Boucher b Pollock 0
4 min, 1 ball
*N Hussain b Pollock 16
33 min, 27 balls, 2 fours, 1 six
M P Vaughan lbw b Donald 5
44 min, 38 balls, 1 four
A J Stewart c Rhodes b Donald 86
160 min, 130 balls, 14 fours, 1 six
C J Adams c Boucher b Donald 1
6 min, 4 balls
A Flintoff c and b Adams 36
86 min, 62 balls, 7 fours
G M Hamilton c Pollock b Donald 0
6 min, 3 balls
A R Caddick b Pollock 48
97 min, 72 balls, 7 fours, 1 six
D Gough not out 16
38 min, 26 balls, 2 fours
A D Mullally c Kallis b Pollock 0
2 min, 2 balls
Extras (b4 lb10 w6) 20
Total (353 min, 83.4 overs) 260
Fall: 1-0 (Atherton) 2-31 (Hussain) 3-41 (Vaughan), 4-145 (Butcher) 5- 147 (Adams) 6-166 (Stewart) 7-166 (Hamilton) 8-218 (Flintoff) 9-260 (Caddick) 10-260 (Mullally).
Bowling: Donald 23-7-74-5 (w1) (7-5-11-0, 5-1-17-1, 7-1-24-4, 2-0-16- 0, 2-0-6-0); Pollock 24.4-11-64-4 (w1) (9-5-22-2, 5-3-9-0, 6-1-21-0, 3- 2-1-0, 1.4-0-11-2); Klusener 19-3-55-0 (7-0-19-0, 7-3-12-0, 1-0-4-0, 4- 0-20-0); Adams 11-1-31-1 (6-0-14-0, 1-1-0-0, 4-0-17-1); Cronje 6-3-22- 0 (one spell).
Progress: Third day: Lunch 4-1 (Butcher 0, Hussain 0) 5 overs. 50: 95 min, 21.5 overs. 100: 160 min, 39 overs. Late tea: 107-3 (Butcher 27, Stewart 46) 42 overs. 150: 235 min, 56.3 overs. Bad light stopped play at 5.52pm-close at 188-7 (Flintoff 26, Caddick 4) 67 overs. Fourth day: play began at 10am. 200: 299 min, 70.3 overs. New ball taken after 80 overs at 242-8. 250: 341 mins, 81.1 overs. Innings closed 11.08am.
Stewart's 50: 93 min, 83 balls, 7 fours, 1 six.
South Africa won by an innings and 21 runs.
Umpires: D L Orchard (SA) and S Venkataraghavan (Ind).
Compiled by Jo King