A spin inspired South Africa restricted England to 118 for seven in the opening innings of the first Twenty20 played at Chester-le-Street on Saturday.
Stooping right arm off-spinner Johan Botha and Robin Peterson both claimed two wickets each, as England's batsmen failed to fire in bright and warm conditions.
Opener Craig Kieswetter top scored with 25 from 24 balls, but there was little scoreboard impact from the English batsmen who were no match for the tourists. Ravi Bopara could only manage six before he was caught at slip of the bowling of Dale Steyn (1-13 from four overs), while Eoin Morgan followed shortly when he was bowled by Botha on 10.
Recalled all-rounder Jacques Kallis was superb in the field for the visitors, firstly running out Alex Hales for 11, then taking a superb diving catch to dismiss Samit Patel on four to have England at 85-7.
A late charge from captain Stuart Broad (18 not out) and Graeme Swann (17 not out) ensured England posted triple figures.
England's task in the field has been made slightly easier with South Africa opting to rest in-form batsman Hashim Amla for the first of three Twenty 20 matches.