“We will never be rid of the memory of being bowled out for 45 in the first innings – that will stay with us forever,” said McCullum after his side posted the third-lowest innings total in their history on Friday.
“We're very disappointed to lose a test match inside three days and it hurt immensely but we came back and showed some resilience at times. We managed to absorb some of the pressure South Africa applied throughout the match but, ultimately, we leave Newlands with a Test loss.”
The Black Caps are a young and relatively inexperienced side, not helped by the controversy which saw their former captain and most talented batsman Ross Taylor get the chop just before the tour.
When the olive branch was offered, it was too little too late and Taylor opted not to tour South Africa.
They are also without left-hand batsman Jesse Ryder who, last year said he needed a break from cricket for personal reasons but has since returned, very successfully, to the first-class game.
Opening batsman Peter Fulton returned home last week after picking up a tendon injury in his right knee in the warm-up game in Paarl and seamer Tim Southee had to pull out with a thumb injury.
Dean Brownlie enhanced his status in the team with a magnificent century at Newlands, surviving a couple of chances on 23, but having the frame of mind push on for his hundred.
“Dean was brilliant. It was a high quality innings that, in the circumstances, was fantastic for him and hopefully will be the start of a very successful career for him,” McCullum said.
“To come out against the number one team in the world in the situation we were in and play a reasonably counter-attacking innings, in trying circumstances, was a fabulous effort.”
McCullum said Brownlie was still extremely disappointed with the overall performance of the team but he hoped that over time, Brownlie would be able to look back and reflect on what was a fantastic innings.
The New Zealand skipper was full of praise for South Africa's bowling attack and said, apart from one short period – just after tea on day two – it was relentless.
“It's no surprise the current South African team is the number one team in the world their seam attack is right up there in terms of the best attacks,” he said.
“They bowled exceptionally well with the new ball, especially in the first spell of the new ball in the second innings.”
The new ball
The New Zealanders were able to absorb the pressure better on the third morning and almost made it through the first session without losing a wicket until Morné Morkel took the new ball two overs before lunch.
“We knew that the new ball was going to be a trying time for us but we were hoping to get through to lunch with two set batsmen still at the crease," McCullum said after Morkel's dismissal of Brownlie.
"It wasn't to be and it opened up proceedings for South Africa to keep attacking us after lunch.
“That was a big moment in the game and who knows what may have unfolded but I still can't fault the effort from Dean and the heart and character that he and BJ Watling showed to be able to uphold the challenge that was thrown down at them.”
McCullum said they had gleaned some positives from the game, despite their poor start.
'Positive under pressure'
They had responded well on the second day taking five wickets for 90 and then getting to 169 for four at stumps.
“We've seen ways we can be positive under pressure so now we need to carry it across the entire game and not just in the second innings,” he said.
He said they would continue to work hard over the next few days as they headed into preparation mode for the second Test match – where the pressure would start all over again. – Sapa