Cape Town - Proteas batsman Aiden Markram says the four-wicket loss to the Prime Minister's XI on Wednesday is a timely reality check ahead of the opening One-Day International (ODI) against Australia in Perth on Sunday.
The Proteas were bundled out for 173 in 42 overs after winning the toss and electing to bat, with the inexperienced home side chasing the target with 13 overs to spare.
It was a disappointing first outing for the batsmen, who fell to 'soft' dismissals in favourable conditions at the Manuka Oval in Canberra.
The batting attempt got off to the worst possible start, with Jason Behrendorff (3/35) claiming the wickets of Quinton de Kock (0) and Reeza Hendricks (0) in the first over. Aiden Markram (47) and David Miller (45) were the only batsmen up the order to show some fortitude, as the wickets continued to fall in clusters without any meaningful partnerships.
One positive from the batting was the lower-order resolve shown by Dale Steyn (20) and Kagiso Rabada (38*), who chipped in with valuable runs to lift the target to a redeeming total.
Markram says there are no panic buttons after the loss, but admits the lack of partnerships was the biggest downfall for the unit.
"It was not ideal," he said of the loss. "It would have been nice to get off to a winning start and for the batsmen to find some form. Their bowlers bowled incredibly well, they struck upfront and put us on the back foot from the start.
"The most obvious one is building partnerships," he said of areas of improvement. "We weren't able to build partnerships and you won't post a big score without partnerships. That is one of the big learnings, guys need to identify their game plans and strengths in these conditions and must be able to do it for long periods of time."
The Proteas were always within a sniff of victory with a strong bowling attack in Dale Steyn, Kagiso Rabada, Lungi Ngidi and Imran Tahir.
The bowlers ran in with good intensity and aggression, but the home team batsmen - led by man of the match Josh Phillipe (57) - faced up to the assault in impressive fashion. Rabada (2/47) and Ngidi (2/13) were the top strikers on the day, with wickets a piece for Steyn (1/41) and Tahir (1/47).
"I thought with the ball we were there and always asking good questions, it's important to be able to do that for 50 overs," Markram said. "From a bowling perspective we were decent tonight.
"For us it is about what we want to get out of a game like this, and it is different for each individual," he explained. "From this game guys can see how much work still needs to be done going into the first ODI. We can fine-tune it going forward and hopefully when the first game comes we are hitting our straps."
Personally, it was satisfying for the 24-year-old to spend some time out in the middle as he continues to establish himself in the ODI squad.
He says there are a lot of positives to take from the match, but admittedly also questions marks which can be fixed ahead of the crunch opener on Sunday.
"It was nice to spend some time out in the middle," he said of his innings.
"As a batter the runs are never enough and in that sort of situation in the game it would have been ideal for me to kick on and to drag the partnership out with David (Miller). I am not entirely happy about getting out but looking back I'm happy with the little bit of time I managed to spend out there."
The Proteas travel back to Perth on Thursday to finalise preparation for the opening ODI against Australia on Sunday.