More agonising went into the balance of England's side for this series than into the sort of scientific research that wins Nobel prizes. All things considered, it was just as well that it was eventually decided on six batsmen rather than five, and if it was hardly the conclusion of genius, on the evidence of yesterday it could have been seven or eight.
Having done exactly what they had to do in restricting South Africa to a manageable total – and with an extreme flourish to boot – the tourists rather squandered the opportunity to make it count.
Most of England's top order was swept away long before they had begun to make a serious attempt at creating an advantage.
Perhaps the Cape Town factor got to them, but it was also South Africa's discipline on a pitch that always offered some reason for bowlers to think that they had chosen the right career option, unlike most of the surfaces around the world these days.
Still, it was not exactly a commendable effort by England who have done badly at Newlands since South Africa came back into the international fold, and their three successive defeats have all been of the huge and embarrassing variety. They should at least have forestalled that option this time but defeat remains distinctly possible after they finished the day on 241 for 7, still 50 runs adrift.
But at least England bat all the way down and the mature seventh-wicket partnership of 51 between Matt Prior and Stuart Broad, ended 10 minutes before the close, was essential in closing the gap.
Of the six specialist men charged with scoring the bulk of the runs only Alastair Cook passed 50. Like most of his colleagues, however, he gave his wicket away in a moment of careless folly. If he was the most culpable because he had got in, Ian Bell, his fellow centurion at Durban last week, was not far behind. Bell batted quite serenely at times and at least five of his eight fours were scored with strokes from the top drawer, but he will hardly need telling that it was not the first time he has given his wicket away with a stroke of inexplicable aberration. The disbelieving shake of the head at the crease as he propelled a long hop unerringly into the hands of point spoke volumes.
He knew what he had done all right. But sometimes it is like that: when the bowlers are offering so little the temptation is overwhelming to take full advantage of the morsels that come along. The one certainty now is that there will be a result in this match. Of the 20 Tests to have been played at the ground since South Africa started playing internationals again, only three have been draws.
The good news for England is that of the last 13 only one has been won by the side batting first.
How different the tourists' position seemed it might be at the start of proceedings. England needed a quick kill and got it. They would probably have settled for capturing the last four of South Africa's wickets by shortly before lunch for the addition of another 60 or so. They secured them in 17 balls for a mere 12 runs in 20 minutes.
The most precious prize was that of Jacques Kallis, who departed to his first ball of the day, the second of Graham Onions' over. It was a heavenly delivery, full, straight, moving away just a fraction and bearing an irresistible invitation to play at it. Kallis was good enough to edge it behind.
That started England on a roll. In quick succession, James Anderson had Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel caught in the slips, smart diving catches by Jonathan Trott and Graeme Swann, respectively. He then wrapped up the affair by pining Friedel de Wet leg before to garner five wickets in an innings for the eighth time in his career. His figures of 5 for 63 were the best at Cape Town by an English seamer since Schofield Haigh's rampant 6 for 11 110 years ago when South Africa were bowled out for 35.
Job done, England might have thought. But it was only half done as became palpably clear when they lost their captain, Andrew Strauss, in the first over.
Strauss's modus operandi these days is to launch an early assault on the new ball but his drive from the crease at a wideish one to the sixth ball of the innings was probably ill-advised.
By the time the 13th over was done, England were three down and in trouble. Trott, stuck in his crease, played at a ball that was too close to his body and chopped on. Kevin Pietersen hit back a return catch to the bowler. When Paul Collingwood was leg before to Morkel, beaten on the drive, it needed caution. Bell provided it. He took 15 balls to score – a lovely, considered push for four through cover – and 22 more to score again – something similar. Two or three shots he played square of and behind the wicket on the off-side were things of beauty. He lost Cook who clipped to short mid-wicket soon after tea but then he and Prior gradually took England out of the woods.
Bell sensed another 50 when he made his fatal error. Prior managed one just before the close but not before Broad was beaten for pace by Steyn to leave matters, like England's team, rather neatly balanced.
Turning points How the second day unfolded
10.15am Early breakthrough
England strike more quickly than anyone dared hope. Graeme Onions produces a peach to Jacques Kallis, which nips away a fraction. The batsman, drawn into the shot, nicks the ball behind. Kallis is out to his first ball of the day.
10.21 Night night Steyn
And Dale Steyn, the other overnight batsman, also departs, well caught by a diving Jonathan Trott at third slip.
10.25 Swann dive takes Morkel
Morne Morkel also edges Jimmy Anderson behind and Graeme Swann, partly atoning for shelling one from Graeme Smith the previous morning, plunges to his left to hold a smart catch.
10.35 Anderson wraps things up
Innings all done in 17 balls and 20 minutes of the morning for 12 runs as Friedel de Wet is lbw to Anderson, who has five wickets in the innings.
10.48 Strauss tumbles
And still the wickets fall. Andrew Strauss essays an over-ambitious drive to the sixth ball of the innings and is caught at the wicket.
11.47 KP and Trott quickly follow
Two wickets fall in Steyn's over, both of England's South Africans. Jonathan Trott flails at a ball too close to him and edges on to his stumps, Kevin Pietersen hits a length ball back to the bowler.
3.10 Time for tea
Tea arrives with England still trying to regroup. They have added 69 runs in 28 overs since lunch.
4.17 Bell finishes with a whimper
Bell's important innings ends limply with a cut to point.
5.09 Broad escapes review
Stuart Broad survives a review of an lbw appeal requested by South Africa.
Cape Town scoreboard
Cape Town (Second day of five) England trail South Africa by 50 runs with 3 first inning wickets remaining
England won toss
SOUTH AFRICA First Innings
Overnight: 279-6 (Boucher 51)
JH Kallis c Prior b Onions......... 108
189 balls 11 fours
DW Steyn c Trott b Anderson......... 26
59 balls 3 fours
M Morkel c Swann b Anderson......... 0
PL Harris not out......... 10
7 balls 1 four
F de Wet lbw b Anderson......... 0
Extras (lb 14, w 1, nb 1)......... 16
Total (86.1 overs)......... 291
Fall: 1-1 (Prince), 2-46 (Amla), 3-51 (Smith), 4-127 (de Villiers), 5-127 (Duminy), 6-216 (Boucher), 7-280 (Kallis), 8-280 (Steyn), 9-281 (Morkel), 10-291 (de Wet).
Bowling: Anderson 21.1-1-63-5 (w1, nb1) (6-1-11-1, 5-0-20-1, 4-0-10-0, 3-0-11-0, 3.1-0-11-3), Onions 20-4-69-2 (4-1-13-0, 4-1-10-1, 5-1-12-0, 4-0-23-0, 3-1-11-1), Broad 19-6-54-1 (9-3-29-0, 5-2-10-0, 5-1-15-1), Swann 22-1-74-2 (14-1-55-2, 3-0-7-0, 5-0-12-0), Pietersen 4-0-17-0 (1-0-4-0, 3-0-13-0).
ENGLAND First Innings
*AJ Strauss c Boucher b Morkel......... 2
AN Cook c Prince b Morkel......... 65
136 balls 7 fours
IJL Trott b Steyn......... 20
36 balls 3 fours
KP Pietersen c & b Steyn......... 0
PD Collingwood lbw b Morkel......... 19
44 balls 3 fours
IR Bell c Duminy b Kallis......... 48
121 balls 8 fours
†MJ Prior not out......... 52
96 balls 5 fours
SCJ Broad b Steyn......... 25
39 balls 4 fours
GP Swann not out......... 5
Extras (lb 2, w 2, nb 1)......... 5
Total (7 wkts, 82 overs)......... 241
Fall: 1-2 (Strauss), 2-36 (Trott), 3-36 (Pietersen), 4-73 (Collingwood), 5-133 (Cook), 6-174 (Bell), 7-225 (Broad).
To bat: J M Anderson, G Onions.
Bowling: Morkel 19-3-57-3 (w1) (4-0-11-1, 3-1-11-0, 4-1-9-1, 5-1-12-0, 3-0-14-1), De Wet 16-3-36-0 (nb1) (5-0-15-0, 2-0-4-0, 3-1-5-0, 3-2-8-0, 3-0-4-0), Steyn 19-5-64-3 (5-2-19-2, 5-3-8-0, 6-0-28-0, 3-0-9-1), Kallis 14-2-27-1 (w1) (3-1-4-0, 6-1-12-0, 3-0-6-1, 2-0-5-0), Harris 9-0-39-0 (6-0-24-0, 2-0-11-0, 1-0-4-0), Duminy 5-0-16-0 (1-0-2-0, 4-0-14-0).
Progress Second day 50 in 15.4 overs, Lunch 64-3 (A Cook 27, P Collingwood 14) 22.0 overs, 100 in 39.1 overs, Tea 133-4 (A Cook 65, I Bell 24) 50.0 overs, 150 in 53.0 overs, 200 in 71.5 overs, Close of play 241-7 (M Prior 52, G Swann 5) 82.0 overs.
Cook 50: 112 balls, 5 fours; Prior 50: 95 balls, 5 fours.
Umpires: D J Harper & A L Hill.
TV replay umpire: Aleem Dar.
Match referee: R S Mahanama.