What makes diamonds unique is not their lustre but their hardness, and there is no mistaking which of these sides is best equipped to resist abrasion. For this success was hewn from a stratum that often seems to lie far beyond the reach of an Englishman with a bat in his hand. In fairness, the bravest performance yesterday came from one such in James Anderson – and the frothiest, come to that, from a son of Natal in Kevin Pietersen. But the men who crushed them are as unyielding as any diamond ever dug out of the great mines of Kimberley.
None could deny that the pitch was a sleeping partner in the South African cause at Lord's. But how often does any side, on any square, disclose the mental durability to save a Test by batting for two days, in the process losing just three wickets? Be in no doubt, this surface had itself become somnolent enough to fortify England when they embarked on an identical mission yesterday morning. And for an hour and a half the nightwatchman, Anderson, gave the South African bowlers a taste of the impotence that had infected even his own efforts as the most threatening of England's bowlers during their long weekend.
Graeme Smith's hopes of holding back Dale Steyn for the arrival of Pietersen were thwarted by the composed resistance of Alastair Cook and Anderson, whose confidence grew to the point that he drove Paul Harris through cover for successive boundaries.
By all accounts, the improvement in his batting is not haphazard, but has been diligently forged in the nets. But its increasing insolence prompted Steyn to dig into cricket's deepest, hardest seam. The consecutive howitzers that exploded into Anderson's wrist and grille broke his resistance in the most mercilessly literal fashion. It was not malicious and, after the second one, Steyn was quick to show his concern to the prostrate batsman. But contrition was another matter, and he finished off the job in classical fashion in the next over, trapping his man in front with one that was full and fleet.
The South African coach, Mickey Arthur, had attributed the symmetrical controversies of the first day – when batsmen from both teams were recalled after ambiguous catches – to Mother Cricket, "who never sleeps". Perhaps the dazed Anderson gave her some thought as he lay on the ground, having himself broken one of Daniel Flynn's teeth at Old Trafford earlier in the summer. Either way, he had reiterated a capacity to play hard.
Pietersen, in contrast, was all glitter this time. He has often excelled in adversity, of course, and ironically was out to a ball he ultimately sought to leave. But the situation transparently required the heroic decaffeination achieved over the weekend by A B de Villiers, whose own instincts are no less belligerent.
Having batted with such parsimony, De Villiers finally found an outlet for his surplus flair by plucking a full-blooded cut from Ian Bell out of the air at gully. Funnily enough, the others behind the wicket share a rather sedentary look, Messrs Boucher, Smith and Kallis these days lacking the obvious athleticism of their young compatriot. But there is nothing soft about this team.
True, their flat-footed spinner is still looking rather innocuous, so much so that the Western Terrace ended up chanting: "Harris for England!" Even Darren Pattinson was able to smash him for consecutive boundaries, forcing South Africa into a five-minute second innings. That gave Pattinson the chance to bowl the last ball of the match – and, more than likely, of a brief, curious Test career. Compared with the adamantine gems of South Africa, England's moments of defiance had been no more than a flash in the pan.