South Africa restricted World Twenty20 champions England to just 118 for seven in the first Twenty20 international at Chester-le-Street on Saturday.
Spin bowling, long regarded as the weakest part of the Proteas' game, accounted for four wickets with off-break bowler Johan Botha (two for 19) and left-armer Robin Peterson (two for 27), who took the new ball, doing damage.
Meanwhile ever reliable fast bowler Dale Steyn took one for 13 in his maximum four overs after captain AB de Villiers won the toss, with the Proteas' attack carrying on from where they left off in their series levelling seven-wicket win in Wednesday's fifth one-day international at Trent Bridge.
England, who defend their Twenty20 title in Sri Lanka later this month, were held to their third lowest total in the format.
At 85 for seven, they were in dangers of their lowest score before an unbroken stand of 33 in 27 balls between captain Stuart Broad and Graeme Swann, who both finished on 18 not out, just about kept them in the match.
No England batsman made more than former South Africa youth international Craig Kieswetter's 25.
England made a brisk start until a needless run out began their collapse.
Alex Hales, who made an England Twenty20 best 99 against the West Indies in June after replacing the still exiled Kevin Pietersen, charged down the pitch for a non-existent single and, turning back, was run out by veteran all-rounder Jacques Kallis's direct hit on the stumps.
Fellow opener Kieswetter then fell for 25 when the opener was plumb lbw to Botha's first ball.
And Ravi Bopara, who averaged just 5.50 with the bat during the one-dayers fell cheaply in familiar fashion when he edged a good length Steyn delivery to Botha at slip.
Botha then struck again when he bowled dangerman Eoin Morgan for 10, after the former Ireland left-hander bottom edged a pull-sweep.
Peterson bowled the charging Jos Buttler before fellow young gun Jonathan Bairstow holed out off paceman Albie Morkel.
Then a well-judged catch by Kallis saw Peterson dismiss Samit Patel.