New Zealand came a close second in the opening match of their five-game ODI series against South Africa last night in Hamilton.

Not good enough, but captain Kane Williamson acknowledged there were good points to take out of the four-wicket defeat, which came down to the penultimate ball of the rain-shortened 34-over contest.

"For sure, we fought hard," Williamson said.

"We have been on the right side of a number of those games and it does hurt to be on the other side.

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"It is important we show fight in all games we play.

As it happened: Black Caps v South Africa - 1st ODI
Black Caps fightback falls short

"Mix that fighting characteristic with improvement in our play and you've got a very good performance."

New Zealand's 207 for seven didn't look enough against South Africa's imposing batting group.

But four wickets were taken in 14 balls for just nine runs to have South Africa jittery.

However captain AB de Villiers and young allrounder Andile Phehlukwayo added an unbroken 54 for the seventh wicket to get the job done by the barest margin, finishing at 210 for six.

The win extends South Africa's unbeaten ODI run to 12, equalling the previous best record of 2005.

But Williamson wasn't particularly interested in that.

"We're thinking about our cricket. Certainly there are a lot of areas to improve on but I'm sure surfaces going into the bulk of the series will be different from that," he said of the Seddon Park strip.

De Villiers admitted it was "a bit weird" and while he rated it a 10 out of 10 experience for his players, it got a 0 out of 10 rating for the condition of the pitch. It was two-paced and took considerable spin late in the match, a by-product of the amount of rain it had absorbed in the last few days.

He hadn't had their unbeaten record in the forefront of his thinking - "we don't play for those kinds of records, but it's a nice one to have.

"We are very aware of it. (But) we are only human and will lose one. That's the nature of the beast, so we'll go to Christchurch (for Wednesday's second ODI), hopefully play a good game and make it another one."

De Villiers insists there is a strong streak of belief within his squad.

"I won't look into it any deeper than that," he said of the winning ODI record. We have great team spirit, which makes it a lot easier on tour. But I won't analyse it too much."

New Zealand used two specialist spinners, a rare occurrence in home conditions, and legspinner Ish Sodhi did an impressive job, taking one for 36 from his seven overs.

But they have issues to address, notably the run drought of opener Tom Latham. He made 137 off 121 balls againt Bangladesh in Christchurch on Boxing Day. Since then he's had scores of 22, four, seven, and a pair of ducks in his last two innings, both at Seddon Park within a fortnight.

Those 33 runs have taken him 81 balls.

Extrapolate that to the top order, with captain Williamson the only batsmen to really make an impact yesterday, with his 59.

Latham, Ross Taylor and Neil Broom combined for three runs off 18 balls.