There was a palpable buzz in the air. Perhaps it had been heightened by Olympic fever but Kevin Pietersen had created plenty of expectation all by himself. He was 149 not out overnight and, after a day of all days in London, they rolled up at Headingley wanting more. Pietersen had constructed the kind of great innings for England in the second Test against South Africa that would have been front-page news on any other occasion.
Six gold medals for Team GB saw its understandable relegation but now here he was ready to resume. Could Headingley 2012 take its place alongside London 2012 for epic drama?
At 11am, Pietersen took guard again. Morne Morkel ran in from the Kirkstall Lane End and Pietersen played a regulation forward defensive prop out to mid-off. Time yet for more fireworks to embellish the 22 fours and one six he had blazed the previous evening.
Morkel twirled at the top of his run-up as usual, the crowd still not properly settled. Pietersen went half-forward again and failed to make contact. The ball thudded into his pad. The umpire, Steve Davis, would have comfortably beaten Usain Bolt out of the starting blocks with the speed at which he raised his finger.
Pietersen raised not a flicker of disgruntlement. He strode off immediately, half-smiling at the ridiculousness of it: quite simply, he had missed a straight one.
The buzz seeped away, replaced by a sense of disappointment that was equally plain. Tim Bresnan, the local hero, came out to replace the centurion but for once it was not the Yorkshireman whom the Leeds crowd had come to see.
When Pietersen returned to the changing room it is possible that they stopped short of hanging a gold medal round his neck, but many recent perceived misdemeanours might have been pardoned. He had spectacularly pulled England out of a hole, not quite single-handedly – there was debutant James Taylor's stoicism – with his 21st and possibly best Test hundred.
Its termination so early in proceedings changed the course of the match again. Had he stayed around until lunchtime England could easily have been building the kind of lead to cause the tourists abundant problems.
Apart from its other obvious qualities – the straight six off Dale Steyn with the second new ball was the equal in grandiosity to Mo Farah's finishing kick – Pietersen's innings off 214 balls embodied the enduring allure and shifting sands of Test cricket.
Until he arrived on the scene yesterday, there is no doubt that England were suffering still from the experiences at The Oval. South Africa were favourites to go 2-0 up. But Pietersen's pyrotechnics on Saturday evening dramatically changed the affair.
No longer were the tourists having matters their own way and in addition had picked up a litany of injuries. Alviro Petersen, the first-innings centurion, has a hamstring injury; Jacques Kallis was prevented from fielding because of a back spasm; Graeme Smith, their captain, was present but treading gingerly after hurting his knee diving in the field; a couple of other squad members were poorly.
Pietersen's departure altered matters again. From looking, albeit optimistically, at a possible lead of 150, England were immediately reduced to hoping for a lead of any sort. As it was, rain played havoc with proceedings.
A heavy shower on the stroke of lunch delayed play for two hours and another, still heavier, caused the premature abandonment. It was a pity, because all things were still possible in terms of outcome. England had managed to build a slight advantage of six runs and South Africa had progressed with the odd scare to 39 for 0, a lead of 33. With fewer than 100 overs any other result than a draw is now unlikely.
Matt Prior was the leading contributor to the late part of the innings. Busy as ever, he did not allow Pietersen's exit to affect him in the slightest. He scurried singles and unfurled his wide array of offside strokes.
Bresnan kept him company for an hour, scoring nine in a partnership of 45, but edged Vernon Philander low to Smith at first slip. If there was anything still amiss with Smith's left knee, which he had damaged in the field on Saturday night and sought the sanctuary of the dressing room, he was fighting his way through the pain.
England rather donated their wickets after that, all three to Imran Tahir's leg-spin, a brand of bowling that always tends to be a handful for late-order batsmen. Stuart Broad pulled a long hop to midwicket, Prior top-edged a sweep and Jimmy Anderson was bowled giving it the old heave-ho.
England needed to strike quickly and in their desperation to do so wasted a review against the typically obdurate Smith. Struck high on the pad, he was rightly given not out but Andrew Strauss, England's captain, was persuaded to ask for another look. The ball was going over by two inches.
Jacques Rudolph, whose last incarnation as an opener was unsuccessful, looked completely out of touch. But he managed to avoid edging most of them and when one caught the shoulder of his bat it flew over the slips.
Throughout the match there has been the feeling that sooner or later there must be a clatter of wickets on a pitch offering the bowlers some assistance. So far, it has never happened and if it does now it may be too late.
Timeline: how day four at Headingley unfolded
11:02am Wicket England 351-6, Pietersen 149
After his heroics on Saturday, Kevin Pietersen lasts just two balls before falling plum to Morne Morkel. KP is hit on the pads and leaves the field to warm applause.
11:47am Half-century England 393-6, Prior 50
Matt Prior nudges a single onto leg side to bring up a his 21st Test fifty and help England close in on South Africa's total.
11:57am Wicket England 396-7, Bresnan 9
The hosts' progress is scuppered as Vernon Philander finds Tim Bresnan's outside edge. Graeme Smith takes a simple low catch at first slip.
12:12pm Wicket England 407-8, Broad 1
Poor play as England inch toward South Africa's 419. With Prior looking steady at one end, Stuart Broad hits high and Faf du Plessis takes a fine diving catch.
12:32pm Wicket England 420-9, Prior 68
The wicketkeeper's valiant efforts are curtailed: on the offensive for a few overs, Prior top edges to Dale Steyn at long leg.
12:34pm Wicket England 425, Anderson 8
James Anderson, attempting a slog over mid-wicket, is bowled by Imran Tahir and England are all out, with a first-innings lead of six.
12:58pm Rain stops play South Africa 5-0
Having survived an appeal after Anderson hits Smith on the pads, the tourists' reply is further interrupted by rain and thunder. An early lunch is taken.
3:45pm Review South Africa 32-0
The restart is postponed by over an hour by the weather. Jacques Rudolph survives another appeal, the ball pitching outside leg.
3:55pm Rain stops play; Stumps South Africa 39-0
The ominously dark clouds cause the players to depart again with play called off for the day 90 minutes later. A draw looks the most likely result.
Stats magic: the day in numbers
21: Prior's 68 was the wicketkeeper's 21st Test half-century
4: Imran Tahir took three wickets in a Test innings for the fourth time
102: Runs conceded by Dale Steyn, for two wickets in 28 overs
12: Boundaries hit during the fourth day - five by the tourists
1998: South Africa's only defeat at Headingley in 65 yearsReuse content