The scoreboard at the Wanderers made England's plight all too clear
It may have been the end of a millennium, but for English cricket the last few weeks of 1999 were the start of a new era.
Captain Nasser Hussain, hard as old boots, was leading the side on an overseas tour for the first time - and the grim-faced but astute former Zimbabwe international Duncan Fletcher had been installed as the new coach.
Two years after replacing the archaic Test and County Cricket Board, the England and Wales Cricket Board had finally bowed into pressure to replicate the Australian system by introducing central contracts.
But there was much to do. England were officially ranked bottom of the pile of all Test nations following a home series loss to New Zealand - and an upcoming tour of South Africa did not exactly promise easy pickings.
Michael Vaughan [R] was one of three England debutants in Johannesburg
The first Test at Johannesburg's Wanderers Stadium - a naturally intimidating arena known locally as The Bullring - featured three England debutants in Chris Adams, Gavin Hamilton and Michael Vaughan - plus an opener struggling for form at international level, Mark Butcher, and a young Andrew Flintoff, with just two Tests behind him.
Pitched against that line-up were two supreme fast bowlers - Allan Donald operating at the peak of his powers and the much younger but equally proficient Shaun Pollock.
Vaughan - aged 25 at the time - takes up the story: "I was the 17th pick. They only wanted to take 16 players in the squad, but Duncan saw something in me which he liked and gave me this opportunity.
"It was great on the plane going over, I felt very relaxed, very at ease being around those big stars to me, guys like Michael Atherton, Butcher, Hussain, Alec Stewart, Darren Gough and Andy Caddick. I felt as if I belonged in that kind of company.
"Sometimes you get picked too soon, but I had been picked at the right time. I was a mature player, I had played very well in the past two years and felt it was my time to play for England. I was very nervous but not overawed at any stage.
"I don't think I was pencilled in to play at the start. In the first game, against the Nicky Oppenheimer XI, Alan Mullally got injured at the start and I got drafted in at number seven. We lost early wickets, I got an opportunity to bat at number seven, got 60-odd not out and Fletch and Nasser liked what they saw.
"I think Darren Maddy had been pencilled in to bat at number four in the Tests and I kind of leapfrogged ahead of him because of that one innings. I got the number four slot for the next couple of four-day games, got an 80-odd and a few wickets with my off-spin.
"In the nets I got hit a few times early on, but stood up and hit it quite nicely. They liked what they saw in me, standing up to adversity.
Vaughan had batted well in the warm-up games before the first Test
"It was during the last warm-up game that I was told I would be making my Test debut in Johannesburg. It's kind of surreal. It's weird because even though you want to play for England you never really see it happening.
"As the the match drew nearer, the media presence and the intensity of the senior players went up another level."
When the match started, England found themselves having bat first on a wicket that was under-prepared ("damp and spongy" according to Wisden), and overhead the conditions were not too pretty either.
"First and foremost we shouldn't have been playing," recalls Vaughan on the 10th anniversary of his Test debut.
"There was this haze overhead, a big black cloud, fog, mist and drizzle. I thought we wouldn't be playing in this in county cricket. We lost the toss as we generally always did in those days, and we're out there batting against Donald and Pollock.
"Donald gets Athers early, Nasser's nicked one off Pollock, and I walk out at 2-2. Before I'd faced a ball Butcher and Stewart got out, and Chris Adams came out and asked me what's happening.
Gavin Hamilton made a debut in that game and didn't look at ease, but straight away I looked the part. I think that's very important
"I said: 'I haven't faced a ball yet but we can't do any worse than them."
From a nightmare position of 2-4, Vaughan began some tentative rebuilding with Adams, and then put on a welcome 56 with Flintoff, but England were never going to be able to post a substantial score and were all out for 122. Flintoff top-scored with 38.
"A lot of people talk about my debut as though it was outstanding but I only got 33. The conditions of course were a big factor, but it's more the manner of what you look like and how you come across.
"Gavin Hamilton made a debut in that game and didn't look at ease with how he played, but straight away I looked the part. I think that's very important.
"Eoin Morgan [the new batsman in the current England team] also looks the part. If you get that part of it right it goes a long way to staying in the team.
Lance Klusener gives Pollock the bear-hug treatment as Hussain is out
"At the time that 33 seemed a lot of runs and Nasser came up to me, shook my hand and said if you play like that you'll play 50 Test matches and he wasn't wrong."
England inevitably lost the Johannesburg Test - by an innings and 21 runs as it happened - but it wasn't all bad and the tourists improved during the course of the series.
"We drew in Port Elizabeth, we then went to Durban and put them under a lot of pressure where Andy Caddick bowled beautifully. In Cape Town we lost and then we won the last game in Centurion, coming out of the series with a reasonable amount of respect.
"We fought quite hard and we had instilled a competitive nature. You've got to make yourself difficult to beat."
Over the course of the next few years England did more than that, beating Zimbabwe and West Indies the following summer - a springboard to a remarkable winter in 2000-01, when both Pakistan and Sri Lanka were put to the sword.
Vaughan's own annus mirabilis was 2002, when he scored 1,481 runs in Tests. By then, that gritty 33 at Johannesburg on debut must have seemed a long way behind him. But it had helped mould him as a vital component of England's Test cricket renaissance.