Captaining England is a job for the masochist, never more so than over the last three days at Headingley when every run and every wicket has dripped with sweat and England's ability to rise from the ashes has been matched by their tendency to get their fingers burnt.
Imagine, for example, being responsible - and captains do take things personally - for a side capable of pulling off the sort of miracle catch which removed Jacques Kallis in the first innings and the sort of incompetence which saw three others shelled in the next 20 minutes.
Or the one who established a firm foothold on the first day only to fall head over heels in the last hour. It would be enough for any self-respecting leader to tear off his epaulettes and stuff them in the nearest bin. That, as Mike Atherton has doubtless told him, comes with the territory and the honour. Stewart probably relishes every minute of the anguish; he is that sort of character. And he has been part of the fabric long enough to know. But his summer has still been a tortured exploration of emotions, though little in his chipper demeanour on the field would betray the fact. Stewart treats most impostors with the same dapper response. Nor has the responsibility of captaincy seemed to affect his natural instincts with the bat in the way that, for all his denials, it did his predecessor.
If anything, Stewart's batting has erred on the side of the wreckless here, a reflection of his determination not to change his flamboyant ways. With Stewart, you always have to take the rough with the smooth, the flash to the slips (see first innings) with the dashing cover drives and effortless swivelled hooks that have been his trademark scoring shots down the years. But I doubt, if you found him in a quiet moment, whether he really knew it would all be such damned hard work.
Stewart's dismissal, indeed much of England's second innings, fitted neatly into the pattern of this absorbing Headingley Test. Bowlers cannot stray for a second from a rigid line; batsmen can never feel settled, no matter how long their stay. Just the opposite, in fact. Mark Butcher, who in style and temperament is starting to resemble John Edrich, the ultimate in phlegmatic left-handers, actually ended his heroic first innings in less confident mood than he began it. Those, like Jonty Rhodes and Stewart, who have tried to defy the odds have not done so for long enough to sway the match.
Having resisted early indiscretions in the face of a niggling off-stump line yesterday, Stewart scampered to the mid-30s via a dropped chance in the slips. Another half an hour and he could have shifted the balance England's way again. But he was undone by a ball which bounced just a fraction more than he anticipated and the pendulum remained midway.
It is, as Angus Fraser said, a pitch to interest the bowler and to keep the batsman honest. Like last year when England chose Mike Smith of Gloucestershire ahead of Andy Caddick on the grounds that the ball would swing more than seam and watched in horror as Jason Gillespie, lean and tall, bowled Australia to an innings victory, the pitch is not so much up and down as up and up. It may just be the odd ball, one every 10 overs, say, but that is enough to instil doubt in the batsman's mind and this has been a Test match fraught with all manner of demons, real and imagined.
At times yesterday afternoon, as Brian McMillan plodded 39 steps back to his mark from an absurdly exaggerated follow-through and Nasser Hussain suffered shoulder ache from lifting his bat above his head to balls aimed well wide of his off-stump, the match actually ground to a halt. For once, you could even forgive the Western Terrace their belated football chant and a sporadic Mexican wave. One man's gripping Test cricket can be another's drying paint. One criticism of an otherwise admirable side is South Africa's tendency to use defence as a first rather than last resort.
The over rate slumped close to a ball a minute, the run rate hovered on two an over and the game hung in the balance as it has since the first morning. Even experienced Headingley watchers have given up trying to read the tea leaves. It could just be that, set the highest score to win the match and the series in the last innings, the South Africans knock off the target with ease.
If England do emerge victorious, none will deserve the accolades more than the captain. Three days gone and still a score of turning points - and grey hairs - to go.
Scoreboard from Headingley
England won toss
England - First Innings 230 (M A Butcher 116; M Ntini 4-72)
South Africa - First Innings
G Kirsten lbw b Fraser 6
(27 min, 24 balls, 1 four; beaten by nip-backer)
G F J Liebenberg c Hick b Fraser 21
(62 min, 42 balls, 2 fours; edged seaming ball to second slip)
J H Kallis c Ramprakash b Cork 40
(180 min, 134 balls, 7 fours; brilliant catch off pull to midwicket)
D J Cullinan c Stewart b Gough 27
(54 min, 29 balls, 4 fours; edged seaming ball to keeper)
*W J Cronje lbw b Fraser 57
(238 min, 163 balls, 9 fours; beaten on front foot by nip-backer)
J N Rhodes c Stewart b Gough 32
(37 min, 39 balls, 4 fours; edged wild drive at full-length delivery)
B M McMillan c Salisbury b Cork 7
(36 min, 25 balls, 1 four; chip to midwicket)
S M Pollock c Salisbury b Fraser 31
(84 min, 64 balls, 1 four; miscued attempted pull-shot to midwicket)
M V Boucher c Atherton b Gough 6
(24 min, 16 balls, 1 four; flat-footed drive to extra-cover)
A A Donald lbw b Fraser 0
(2 min, 2 balls; beaten on crease by nip-backer)
M Ntini not out 4
(9 min, 6 balls, 1 four)
Extras (lb 20, nb 1) 21
Total (381 min, 90.3 overs) 252
Fall: 1-17 (Kirsten), 2-36 (Liebenberg), 3-83 (Cullinan), 4-120 (Kallis), 5-163 (Rhodes), 6-184 (McMillan), 7-237 (Cronje), 8-242 (Pollock), 9-242 (Donald), 10-252 (Boucher).
Bowling: Gough 24.3-7-58-3 (8-2-19-0 7-4-9-1 4-1-7-1 2-0-9-0 3.3-0-14- 1), Fraser 25-9-42-5 (10-3-16-2 6-2-13-0 5-3-3-0 4-1-10-3), Cork 21-3- 72-2 (2-0-12-0 3-0-13-0 16-3-47-2), Flintoff 8-1-31-0 (4-1-17-0 4-0-14- 0), Salisbury 3-0-6-0 (one spell), Butcher 9-4-23-0 (nb1) (6-3-19-0 3- 1-4-0).
Cronje 50: 226 min, 151 balls, 9 fours.
England - Second Innings
M A Butcher c McMillan b Pollock 37
(150 min, 107 balls, 5 fours; edged seaming ball to slip)
M A Atherton lbw b Donald 1
(13 min, 4 balls; trapped in front by sharp nip-backer)
N Hussain not out 83
(370 min, 294 balls, 11 fours)
*A J Stewart c Boucher b Pollock 35
(103 min, 68 balls, 7 fours; edged lifting ball to wicketkeeper)
M R Ramprakash lbw b Pollock 25
(98 min 75 balls, 4 fours; trapped on crease by nip-backer)
I D K Salisbury not out 4
(20 min, 9 balls, 1 four)
Extras (b8, lb1, w2, nb10) 20
Total (for 4, 374 min, 91 overs) 206
Fall: 1-2 (Atherton), 2-81 (Butcher), 3-143 (Stewart), 4-200 (Ramprakash)
Bowling: Pollock 25-11-39-3 (nb2) (5-2-8-0 3-2-4-0 7-1-23-1 5-3-2-1 5- 3-2-1), Donald 20-4-57-1 (nb1,w1) (5-1-4-1 4-0-5-0 5-2-25-0 6-1-23-0), McMillan 11-0-22-0 (nb3) (5-0-9-0 6-0-13-0), Ntini 15-4-43-0 (nb5) (4- 0-24-0 11-4-19-0), Kallis 15-6-31-0 (w1) (1 1-5-16-0 4-1-15-0), Cullinan 1-0-1-0 (nb1), Cronje 4-1-4-0 (one spell each).
Progress: 50: 99 min, 23.1 overs. Lunch: 67-1 (Butcher 35, Hussain 22) 30 overs. 100: 194 min, 47.5 overs. Tea: 141-2 (Hussain 55, Stewart 35) 61 overs. 150: 273 min, 67.3 overs. New ball taken after 80 overs at 177- 3. Bad light stopped play 5.32-5.43pm 187-3 (Hussain 80, Ramprakash 15) 82 overs. 200: 349 min, 85 overs.
Hussain 50: 206 min, 164 balls, 7 fours.
Umpires: Javed Akhtar and P Willey. TV Replay Umpire: K E Palmer
Match Referee: Ahmed Ebrahim