The step up from Zimbabwe to South Africa proved too much for New Zealand, who lost the first Twenty20 international against the Proteas by eight wickets in Durban.
Following ODI and T20 series wins on slow pitches in Zimbabwe, the New Zealanders came up well short against strong opponents on a bouncy but true Kingsmead surface.
The tourists slowed over the second half of their innings to post 8-151 when asked to bat and couldn’t stop South Africa cruising to 4-152 with 13 balls to spare.
Accomplished opener Hashim Amla batted through most of the chase to score 48 while Rilee Rossouw crunched 38 off 20 balls in the latter stages.
New Zealand new ball pair Doug Bracewell (1-17 off three overs) and Adam Milne (1-23 off 3.5) were sharp, but lacked support.
Captain Kane Williamson got New Zealand off to a promising start, flying to 42 off 21 balls in a 68-run stand with Martin Guptill (42 off 37).
Guptill’s unnecessary run out in the 13th over sparked a slump as New Zealand managed just 49 runs off their last 46 balls while losing seven wickets.
George Worker scored 28 before falling to spinner Aaron Phangiso, who took two wickets along with pace bowling teammates Kagiso Rabada and David Wiese.
Williamson said his team should have pushed on to a better score.
“After the start we got with the bat, it was outstanding from South Africa to pull things back,” he said.
“They are a very good team and we need to be at our best to beat them. They controlled our last 10 overs and 150 probably isn’t enough.”
New Zealand made two changes to the team who won the T20 against Zimbabwe in Harare last week, introducing Bracewell and batsman Tom Latham for James Neesham and Ish Sodhi.
South Africa were forced into a late change when captain Faf de Plessis pulled out with a knee injury.
He passed the captaincy to their regular ODI skipper AB de Villiers, who enjoyed the experience, but only after his team got on top.
“We were nervous and that showed in the first five overs but we pulled it back,” he said.
“Credit to Phangiso, he slowed things up. A score of 160 is minimum, they were definitely below par.”
The second T20 is in Johannesburg on Sunday, followed by three ODIs.