Andrew Strauss admitted to regrets and frustrations after England were outplayed in all departments in their innings defeat against South Africa at the Kia Oval.
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Ian Bell (55) did his best to try to salvage an unlikely draw on the final day. But Dale Steyn (five for 56) ensured the gulf in performance was duly converted into a trouncing, with a session to spare in the first Investec Test.
There is precious little room for manoeuvre now, in just two remaining matches - starting at Headingley next week - if England are to overturn the scoreline.
Had Bell and others managed a great escape, it would have been a laudable effort but a travesty in many ways too after South Africa had piled up a mammoth 637 for two declared thanks to Hashim Amla's historic triple-century and hundreds too from captain Graeme Smith and Jacques Kallis.
Strauss did not seek to argue with the overwhelming evidence of the scorebook, or cite excuses for his world number one team's shortfall with bat and ball.
"I don't sit there ranking defeats, but we were outplayed..." he said.
"There are a number of areas where we are frustrated.
"There are regrets there, but we will learn the lessons and come back strong next week."
England faltered most obviously when they failed to build on a first-day stumps total of 267 for three - and then when their much-vaunted bowling attack barely managed to find any movement off the pitch or in the air with three successive new balls.
Strauss also rued the loss of four wickets on the penultimate evening, after Smith's teatime declaration.
"I suppose South Africa had a bit of a psychological advantage, with us having been in the field for a period of time," he said.
"But we did not react well enough to that, and that leaves a sour taste in the mouth."
As for managing just two wickets in 189 overs themselves, he added: "The wicket was at its most placid. We could not get the ball swinging either way.
"It was always going to be hard work for us. South Africa never gave us an end to bowl at.
"When we did get someone in, Kallis got a hundred of his own."
England began the final day hoping to invoke the spirit of previous successful rearguards, against South Africa and Australia, in the Strauss era. They appeared to have a chance when Bell and Matt Prior were sharing a stand of 86 for the sixth wicket - but the illusion did not last long.
"Most of my regrets are that we did not come out with a draw. We should have done that," said the captain.
"Losing four wickets last night was a body blow for us ... with more wickets in hand we could have batted out the day."
He knows time is short now, for England to regroup and at least retain their number one status by earning a series draw. But he is confident they can.
"I am sure there are lessons for us to learn, coming out of this Test match," he said.
"There have to be, and it is increasingly important in a three-Test series not to repeat those mistakes in the next game.
"I still think we will come back into the series.
"We have often played our best when we have come off a defeat, and this is a good challenge for us.
"We have two games and we have to win them both to win the series.
"I have huge confidence in our players to do that. But we need to use the time this week wisely to put the game to bed and learn lessons from it, recharge batteries and make sure we are ready to go next week."
South Africa captain Smith was overjoyed after leading his side to victory in what was his 100th Test match.
Smith, speaking before dashing back to South Africa to attend the birth of his first child, said: "It's certainly an extremely proud moment for all of us to have achieved a Test victory in the first Test of what is a big series and play as well as we have.
"In the context of the first innings to come back and win the game is an incredible achievement.
"I don't think we were that terrible on day one when we lacked a little bit of that x-factor but we found that on day two.
"The conditions on that morning suited us but we found an intensity that we lacked a little bit on day one.
"We got a couple of plans right on day two and all credit to our bowlers, they set the tone for us in this Test match and managed to finish it off on a really good batting wicket."
Captain Smith had to leave the ground quickly for his flight to Cape Town to attend the birth of his first child, but plans to be back at the start of next week.
In his absence, Kallis was on hand to explain South Africa's likely preparations between Tests - which will include a two-day tour match in Worcester.
"We'll enjoy the next couple of days," he said.
"But both sides start nought for nought in the next Test match - and we realise there's a lot of hard work ahead of us."
Amla was named man of the match after becoming the first South African to make a Test treble century with his unbeaten 311 in his side's mammoth first-innings total.
The 29-year-old was understandably delighted with his efforts but was keen to hail the contributions of Smith and Kallis as well praising the Proteas' bowling attack.
He said: "I'm obviously very excited and grateful for the opportunity to be able to contribute and get a big score like that, but you can never do it alone and fortunately Graeme and Jacques were with me to guide me along, so it was a lovely experience for myself."
He added of veteran all-rounder Kallis: "Everybody has taken a lot from Jacques. Obviously he's a very experienced guy, so we've taken a lot from him.
"And credit to our bowlers in this particular match, the wicket was good to bat on and they did a fantastic job for us."
Fast bowler Steyn thought the tide turned in this match on the morning of day two.
"After day one, we were probably thinking 'how can we get a couple more wickets"', Steyn said.
"The important thing was, I don't think England got away from us. They'd scored around 3.6 (runs an over) so we always knew that day two, the morning was pretty important to us and if we got a few wickets we could be back in the game.
"We had a little bit of luck. There was some overcast conditions and the ball did move around a little bit.
"And we got lucky with a couple of wickets. A drag on from Cookie, who'd done pretty well the day before so I suppose that morning set it up for us."