After a heavy defeat in the series opener at Centurion and two injury blows in the last 24 hours, captain Joe Root must have hoped his luck was turning when he won the toss and opted to bat on a friendlier looking surface.
England have talked tirelessly about the importance of big first-innings runs but under-delivered once again in Cape Town, with Ollie Pope's unbeaten 56 he high point of an otherwise unimpressive showing.
If losing pace spearhead Jofra Archer to an elbow problem goes down as bad luck and Rory Burns' football injury represents a self-inflicted wound, then the opening day at a packed Newlands was a simple case of being outplayed.
Anrich Nortje was the pick of the bowlers, taking out Root (35) with a brute of a bouncer and drawing a tame dismissal from Ben Stokes (47) at the site of his career-best 258 four years ago.
Football season is over
Burns' tour-ending ankle injury is likely to cast a long legacy in English cricket, with England coach Chris Silverwood and director of cricket Ashley Giles making the collective decision to end the squad's much-loved warm-up football matches. Giles has never been a fan of the idea, banning football at Warwickshire and Lancashire, but the laissez-faire policy of Silverwood's predecessor Trevor Bayliss had persisted. Until now.
Shot of the day
It is hard to pick between a pair of instinctive uppercuts from Pope late in the day. On both occasions he swayed out of the way of rapid Kagiso Rabada bouncers only to adjust the angle of the bat and send the ball high over the wicketkeeper towards the boundary.
What they said
South Africa captain Faf Du Plessis filmed a short message for the retiring Vernon Philander ahead of his final Test on home turf at Newlands. As well as revealing a couple of dressing room nicknames for the 34-year-old – 'sniper' and 'the surgeon' – he also paid tribute to the manner of his departure. "This team has relied on you for so many years as the backbone of the bowling attack. I'm so happy you can finish the way you want to, and write your own story," said the skipper.
Unhappy returns for Bairstow
It was on this ground four years ago that Jonny Bairstow scored his maiden Test century, finishing 150 not out in a match that marked his coming of age at the highest level. His hopes of making new memories at Newlands came to nothing, with England dropping him despite Burns' place opening up. Crawley was the spare opener on tour but the option of sticking with Bairstow and rejigging the order did exist.
Day two of five. England are looking to drag their 10th wicket stand out as long as possible, while South Africa will hope to blow James Anderson away early on.