And yet, thanks to a rash of flimsy flaps with the bat, they contrived to collapse to a rather forgettable 267 all out, and defeat by 72 runs to a spirited England outfit.
In this day of brave cricket, 340 is not the sort of total that gives the very best teams in the world nightmares.
Indeed, for a large part of their pursuit, South Africa were still fancied to get the job done – if only they could stop leaking wickets at a rate as rapid as their scoring.
Somehow, they contrived to turn brave into grave cricket, and the margin flattered the gleeful hosts. It ought to have been a lot, lot closer.
Hashim Amla (73), Faf du Plessis (67) and AB de Villiers (45) all looked like a million bucks, but none of them finished the job.
They sprayed wondrous strokes around the park, and the patrons from Leeds purred in wonder at the sparkling clarity of their play.
A commentator opined that all of South Africa’s top four were in the top 10 rankings for one-day batsmen.
The three match series continues on Saturday.