So much for the idea that fast bowling would dominate. Spectators arrived here expecting fireworks from Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel, but they were treated instead to the steady glow of an Alastair Cook hundred, his 20th in Tests.
Cook's composure was never disturbed as he moved level with Graham Gooch, England's batting coach and Cook's guide and inspiration for many years, in the list of Test century-makers. In his 81st Test, Cook also joined Ken Barrington and Kevin Pietersen on 20 hundreds, and now only four England players are ahead of him. Wally Hammond, Colin Cowdrey and Geoffrey Boycott have 22 Test centuries, and Andrew Strauss, the Test captain, one fewer.
Cook, who was relentless, giving his team a position of dominance in the opening game of the three-match series, said: "It's nice to join Goochie on 20 hundreds. He was a great player and to have made the same number of centuries as him is very special."
By the close, the opener was 114 not out, having batted through the day at his own pace and on his own terms. Strauss was out for a duck in the first over but Jonathan Trott and Pietersen gave the vice-captain important support, creating a challenging opening day for South Africa captain Graeme Smith, who is playing his 100th Test.
A maximum of 14 days remain in this series and it is impossible to imagine that the pace bowlers will be kept quiet throughout. From Steyn to Jimmy Anderson, from Morkel to Stuart Broad, there is so much explosive talent. Yet it was still surprising to see South Africa's attack so subdued. However, as Cook and Trott reminded us, the batsmen aren't bad, either. This was the seventh stand of more than 100 that Cook and Trott have constructed in Tests, and, when the pitch is slow, there can be few pairings as reliable.
After a delayed start, Strauss fell to the fourth ball of the day, lbw to Morkel on review. If South Africa sensed an opening, they had not given proper consideration to England's limpets. A Trott-Cook combination is not designed to thrill, yet to criticise these two for their lack of spectacular strokes is to miss the point. It is the role of Cook and Trott to give the middle order freedom and, as they have on several occasions, they performed it excellently yesterday.