After only three overs, four wickets were down and the innings was in tatters. But although 122 was not much of a score, even in these conditions, two of the newcomers, Chris Adams and Michael Vaughan, in particular, came out of it with some credit - as did Andrew Flintoff.
Vaughan and Adams found themselves together with the score 2 for 4, neither of them having faced a ball, and Adams had first to prevent Alan Donald taking a hat-trick - which he did with some confidence.
In Donald's next over, Adams slashed a short one just behind square on the offside for four and later in the over drove hard off the back foot and the ball flew off a thick edge past second slip for four.
Adams was not going to let the situation get to him and was true to his nature as he took the attack to the bowlers. It was a spirited response which told of a good temperament and sound common sense.
Vaughan is not the same sort of instinctive stroke player but, after a fortunate edge to third man, he began to time the ball well. The Yorkshire batsman has a well-ordered, upright way of playing and remained calm and composed. His defence was excellent and he also produced some high-class attacking strokes.
When Shaun Pollock over-pitched, Vaughan used his reach to drive him in classical style through the covers. He then played what was for me the stroke of the innings when he on-drove Donald wide of mid-on.
The score had reached 34 when Adams fended unwisely at a short one down the leg-side from Donald and was caught behind off the glove. His admirable inclination, as always, had been to be positive and play a stroke, but he was let down by his judgement of a ball which he should have left alone.
His departure brought in Flintoff, whose form and thinking has improved dramatically since he has been here. Without curbing his natural aggressive inclination, he has learned to cut out the most risky strokes and his batting is so much better for it.
He began by flicking Donald with apparent unconcern through mid-wicket for four. When Lance Klusener replaced Pollock, Flintoff drove him straight and through mid-off for fours and in Klusener's next over he ran him to third man for another.
With Vaughan continuing to push the ball elegantly into the gaps, these two had put on 54 by the lunch interval. It was most encouraging to see these three batsmen challenge the South African bowling as they did, although it was of course easier when Klusener and Hansie Cronje took over the attack.
One could only think back to the approach of Graeme Hick and Mark Ramprakash in this sort of situation which England have been in all too frequently of late. Their response has almost invariably been much more subjective, as they have tried to hang on only for survival, making no effort to try and regain the initiative. Flintoff, Vaughan and Adams set a better and more intelligent example.Reuse content