What a deeply significant day it was for England. Alastair Cook was their captain for the first time, the inaugural stage in a grooming process for the future. Kevin Pietersen made his return to the team after the surgery on an Achilles tendon last July, a relief for all concerned.
And then it all went horribly wrong in the second Twenty20 international. South Africa came out slugging in a fashion only Babe Ruth might have recognised. In a destructive dismantling of England's hapless attack, they made 241 for 6, the second-highest total in Twenty20 internationals and the largest between two major nations. During this brutal assault they struck a record 17 sixes, nine of them to Loots Bosman and six of them to their captain, Graeme Smith.
The result was a formality simply because England, even with Pietersen back and the revelation that is Eoin Morgan, lacked the necessary power to sustain a rate of 12 runs an over. The defeat by 84 runs was the heaviest the team have suffered and the T20 series was left drawn at 1-1.
"I don't think it comes much tougher than that," said Cook. "Very little we tried came off, the margin for error on that pitch was very small and unfortunately they punished us."
If Cook, who expressed his pride in having done the job, thought that was tough enough, he was then criticised for his handling of Adil Rashid, who was withdrawn from the attack after one over which went for 25.
Micky Arthur, South Africa's coach, said: "The way they used their spinners was criminal. When you see Rashid getting only one over you have to question his backing within the team and whether they have faith in him."
Arthur might or might not have had a point but he is an arch press conference politician. To suggest Cook had a baptism of fire would be to underestimate the metaphorical blaze, lit by Bosman and Smith and then fanned by Arthur, that engulfed him. He was told in the morning that regular T20 captain Paul Collingwood had been ruled out with a sore back. For the first three overs of South Africa's innings, when he stood at slip directing operations as James Anderson bowled two highly serviceable overs, he might have thought the day boded well.
His difficulties became insurmountable from then on. Sajid Mahmood went for 21 in the fourth over, compounding the dross with two no-balls: the first allowed a free hit delivery to Smith – which bowled him – and the second Bosman drove into the hands of deep mid-off.
Bosman and Smith put on 170 for the first wicket, a world record, in 13.1 overs. England bowled some perfectly bad balls during the calculated mayhem but the perfectly good ones were treated similarly. The only statistical relief was that Mahmood somehow avoided bowling the most expensive quartet of overs in T20 international history, the 61 runs he conceded being three fewer than Sanath Jayasuriya for Sri Lanka against Pakistan and Anderson for England against Australia.
Anderson, by stark contrast, was comfortably England's outstanding bowler yesterday. He took 1 for 28 in his four overs and only when he was performing did the tourists give the impression that they had a semblance of control.
Since Rashid was apparently not to be trusted – and Cook said he considered recalling him – Pietersen and Joe Denly bowled, which cannot have been in his game plan. Both emerged with wickets, Denly with his first ball in international cricket. If he does not start scoring some runs soon it will remain his solitary claim to fame as an international cricketer.
Smith was more calculatingly brutal than his partner, an impression perhaps heightened by his sheer bulk, but Bosman maintained an equal flow of dramatic hitting to the leg-side. England considered amending their batting order – and Arthur was unequivocal in suggesting they ought to have done – by asking the known and in-form big hitters to go in first.
But Cook and Denly opened as usual and England, despite drilling the odd four, were never remotely in the chase. Jonathan Trott and Pietersen put on 52 for the third wicket and Trott made 51 from 40 balls, Pietersen a commanding 29 from 19. This was positively sedate compared to the destruction that had gone before.
South Africa v England: Centurion scoreboard
South Africa won toss
South Africa beat England by 84 runs
*G Smith c Mahmood b Denly......... 88
L Bosman c Anderson b Wright......... 94
A Morkel c Bresnan b Pietersen......... 14
J Duminy c Wright b Anderson......... 2
A de Villiers run out (Morgan)......... 24
J Kallis b Mahmood......... 7
†H Kuhn not out......... 5
R McLaren not out......... 1
Extras (lb 3, w 1, nb 2)......... 6
Total (for 6, 20 overs)......... 241
Fall: 1-170, 2-192, 3-203, 4-204, 5-214, 6-238.
Did not bat: R E van der Merwe, D W Steyn, Y A Abdulla.
Bowling: J Anderson 4-0-28-1, T Bresnan 4-0-48-0, S Mahmood 4-0-61-1, L Wright 4-0-40-1, A Rashid 1-0-25-0, K Pietersen 2-0-27-1, J Denly 1-0-9-1.
J Denly b Abdulla......... 14
*A Cook c van der Merwe b Morkel......... 26
J Trott c Kuhn b Morkel......... 51
K Pietersen b van der Merwe......... 29
E Morgan b Steyn......... 10
L Wright c sub b Steyn......... 12
†M Prior not out......... 10
T Bresnan c Smith b McLaren......... 0
A Rashid run out (Kallis)......... 1
S Mahmood not out......... 1
Extras (w 3)......... 3
Total (8 wkts, 20 overs)......... 157
Fall: 1-20, 2-65, 3-116, 4-132, 5-144, 6-146, 7-146, 8-150.
Did not bat: J Anderson.
Bowling: D Steyn 4-0-29-2, Y Abdulla 4-0-28-1, R McLaren 4-0-26-1, R van der Merwe 4-0-39-1, A Morkel 4-0-35-2.
Umpires: M Erasmus & B G Jerling.