With Brian Lara, in his 100th Test, inevitably to the fore with a skilfully crafted 72, the West Indies battled their way back from the depths of 17 for 4 and 50 for 5 to 232 for 8 on the first day of the second Test here yesterday.
But South Africa, who are one up in the series of four Tests, hold the advantage on a pitch that had lost its early life by mid-afternoon.
Lara, the tourists' captain, had vital support from fellow left-hander Ridley Jacobs, the combative wicketkeeper, in a counterattacking sixth-wicket partnership of 98 in less than 20 overs after lunch.
After Jacobs was lbw for 58 to Andre Nel, one of South Africa's five fast bowlers, and Lara steered a wicked bouncer from Makhaya Ntini to first slip, Vasbert Drakes and Adam Sanford kept the fight going with a ninth-wicket stand which was worth 41 when the rain that threatened throughout the day set in to end play 25 overs early.
The West Indies were compelled by the loss of the toss to bat on a grassy pitch under damp, leaden skies that required the use of the floodlights throughout.
"This ain't Barbados," the South Africa wicketkeeper, Mark Boucher, was heard to exclaim through the stump microphone early in the piece. It certainly was not.
After the start was delayed by half an hour because of rain, the West Indies lost a wicket to the sixth ball of the match and four within the first eight overs as Shaun Pollock and Ntini kept finding outside edges and the wicketkeeper and the slips kept snapping up catches.
By lunch, they were 57 for 5 after Carlton Baugh, the 21-year-old back-up wicket-keeper pressed into service because of the spate of injuries that have bedevilled the team on the tour, was another victim in the slips. As the pitch eased, Jacobs, all muscular aggression, punched 11 fours in his 58 off 69 balls, while Lara, playing with the same freedom of his first-Test 202, added 59 from 62 balls in the second session before he was undone by Ntini's pace, bounce and accuracy.
Lara survived Andrew Hall's miss at third slip off Ntini when he had made 14 to stroke 12 trademark boundaries in all directions.
Ntini claimed his fourth wicket by bowling Merv Dillon but Drakes, the 34-year-old veteran with the advantage of six seasons in South African provincial cricket behind him, raised his highest Test score of 40 while the No 10, Sanford held fast at the other end.
First day of five.
(South Africa won the toss.)
West Indies - First Innings
W W Hinds c Boucher b Pollock 0
D Ganga c Pollock b Ntini 6
R R Sarwan c Kallis b Pollock 4
B C Lara c Pollock b Ntini 72
S Chanderpaul c Hall b Ntini 0
C S Baugh c Kallis b Nel 21
ÝR D Jacobs lbw b Nel 58
V C Drakes not out 40
M Dillon b Ntini 6
A Sanford not out 3
Extras (lb6 nb6) 12
Total (for 8, 65 overs) 232
Fall: 1-0, 2-4, 3-15, 4-17, 5-50, 6-148, 7-172, 8-191.
To Bat: F H Edwards.
Bowling: Pollock 20-2-53-2; Ntini 20-7-56-4; Hall 8-1-38-0; Nel 12-4-41-2; Kallis 3-0-29-0; Rudolph 2-0-9-0.
South Africa: *G C Smith, H H Gibbs, G Kirsten, J H Kallis, N D McKenzie, J A Rudolph, ÝM V Boucher, S M Pollock, A J Hall, A Nel, M Ntini.
Umpires: D B Hair (Aus) and S J A Taufel (Aus).