Back-to-form Alastair Cook made a painstaking century as he combined with Paul Collingwood to give England a significant mid-match advantage in the second Test.
Cook's first hundred since May and a gritty 91 from Collingwood underpinned a stumps total of 386 for five in reply to South Africa's 343 on a gloriously sunny third day at Kingsmead.
At a venue where many assumed the likes of Cook and Collingwood may be destined to be overshadowed by a major innings from Kevin Pietersen or even his fellow South Africa-born batsman Jonathan Trott, it was England's determined fourth-wicket pair who shone.
Cook (118) had made just one half-century in 12 Test innings but ground his way past that milestone from 136 balls, and then prospered against the old ball on the way to three figures in 82 more - with 10 fours along the way.
Collingwood shared a stand of 142 with the opener as South Africa endured a wicketless second session and replicated Cook's unhurried tempo in his own 215-ball innings as the tourists took a 43-run lead at stumps with Ian Bell 55 not out.
Pietersen (31) and Trott (18), meanwhile, were the only batsmen to lose their wickets before tea.
Trott, who was under the microscope for his habitually time-consuming fidgets before facing up, did not delay his hosts long this time.
He went to the seventh ball of the day - and Morne Morkel's third - when he found himself slightly turned around pushing forward to a straight ball and edging behind to be well-caught by Mark Boucher.
The scene was therefore set early for Pietersen, in his first Test innings at what was once his home ground.
It took him nine balls to register his first runs. But when he did so, it was in trademark Pietersen style - a drive for four off Morkel steered expertly wide of mid-on.
He had already been dropped by Jacques Kallis at slip off Paul Harris, though, before missing an attempted sweep at the left-arm spinner to go lbw.
Cook's struggle to establish himself took him to near runless extremes in the first hour, before the introduction of Harris appeared to give him some breathing space.
The left-hander successfully queried Amiesh Saheba's decision to give him caught out at short-leg for 64 off JP Duminy.
Whether the DRS evidence conclusively proved the umpire wrong - as, strictly, it must - was a moot point, but it showed enough to know Cook would have been most unfortunate had his appeal failed.
Cook's initial lack of productivity had given Graeme Smith a chance to ease Makhaya Ntini back into the attack, after the glut of boundaries he had conceded to Andrew Strauss yesterday.
But in his 101st Test, South Africa's veteran pace bowler was the weak link which allowed England much-needed leeway to attack.
Among the other frontline bowlers, Morkel (three for 69) was the pick on a pacy pitch which was always likely to be at its best for batting today.
Cook finally went to Morkel in early evening, a good delivery from round the wicket holding its line and taking the edge for a neat catch at second slip by Kallis.
But Bell produced easily the most fluent innings of the day as England eased beyond parity, with plenty of power to add.
Collingwood very nearly ground to a halt as he approached three figures, only to fall short anyway when an attempted cut at Duminy's off-spin resulted in a thin edge behind.
In the match situation, extra batsman Bell's 65-ball 50 - containing five fours and a six over long-on off Harris - was a very valuable contribution, as England balanced the demands of buying time to try to force victory over the last two days and making sure they did not get ahead of themselves.
South Africa, who had a chastening experience in the field, were unable to help themselves when Matt Prior was dropped at short-leg on six by Hashim Amla off Kallis.
He is the sort of batsman who could hurt the hosts even more tomorrow and was unbeaten on 11 at the close.