With Twenty20 windfalls seemingly around every corner, testing loyalties and moving boundaries, Test cricket has never feared more for its future. Yet in the fading light of a damp evening yesterday came a classic gladiatorial battle to reaffirm the longest form of the game as the true measure of its highest values.
Andrew Flintoff against Jacques Kallis was the heavyweight contest the promoters of this series always hoped would seize top billing and at the end of a day of relentless sparring it grabbed its moment, bringing the crowd to its feet with a crescendo of telling blows.
Happily, from England's point of view, most of them were landed by Flintoff, the talisman of Michael Vaughan's team recalling the heights of his Ashes campaign of 2005 as he opened his opponent's defences to deliver the classic counter-punch.
It meant that, just as he was threatening to put England back on the ropes after a passage in which they had manfully regained some of Wednesday's lost momentum, Kallis was suddenly floored, sent reeling by Flintoff's bouncer-yorker one-twos before being dumped on the canvas.
Yet as he walked off, his off stump sent flying out of the ground by the last of those yorkers, he was almost ready to hold aloft the hand of his conqueror.
"Freddie bowled a fantastic spell and brought England back into the game," Kallis said. "There is a little bit in that wicket and he put it in the right areas to make life tough.
"Any time you get good battles in Test cricket it is great. People are saying with Twenty20 around that Test cricket is going to die but I don't think it is. People still want to come to watch it and to get exciting afternoons like that – what more do you want?"
Tempers seemed to fray at times, the South Africans complaining about the dark committee room windows, above the sightscreen at the pavilion end, making it hard to pick up the yorker. Yet even though conditions favoured the bowlers, the South Africans defended their wickets doggedly and, after the controversy earlier in the day when Neil McKenzie was reprieved by the television umpire, frustration surfaced on the English side.
Indeed, Flintoff momentarily lost his cool after his leg before appeal against Kallis was turned down by Aleem Dar, giving the umpire an account of how he felt about it. "I don't know what I said," Flintoff recalled afterwards. "It was just a mindless rant. Emotions were running a bit high. I've been in to apologise and we're friends again."
The all-rounder, understandably, was pleased with his work. "It is what I've missed, what I've worked so hard for since my ankle operation. When you are bowling against one of the best players in the world it brings the best out and tonight was up there with one of my better overs."Reuse content