The bowlers hit back yesterday. They emerged for the second instalment of the First Test sending the ball round corners while making it talk, a stark contrast to the opening exchanges when it was conveyed to the other end, but only just, without a murmur.
It made for riveting viewing, Test cricket in the raw between the two best teams now playing it. And by the close, it was South Africa who could feel as satisfied with their progress as could England the previous day.
The tourists were still 299 adrift but had overcome a torrid start to their first innings. England, who looked to be on course for 500 and beyond, were restricted to a total of 385 all out and needed something steadfast from their late order to manage that.
Matters were becoming increasingly fascinating with South Africa's batsmen being probed, inspected and scrutinised in the initial stages of their reply. England's opening bowlers could hardly have been more precise if forensic scientists in CSI, the television hit de nos jours: Jimmy Anderson and Stuart Broad, the Gil Grissom and DB Russell of their craft.
Something, it seemed, had to give and as so often this summer it was the weather. The tourists were 27 for one when the shower that had long been promised throughout the day finally arrived to curtail the evening session. If it did not quite let them off the hook, it certainly interrupted England's fast bowlers in their work.
By the time that play resumed after almost two hours, the evening was fresher, the climate less obliging. Gradually, the second wicket pair of Graeme Smith and Hashim Amla settled in, the surface remained benign, the ball refused to budge off the straight. Only as the day drew to its belated end did England have the sniff of another chance when Amla flashed at Ravi Bopara and was put down by Andrew Strauss as the ball flew high and hard to his left at slip.
If the tourists had by far the more rewarding day, there remains plenty to play for by all concerned. The ball is already turning as Graeme Swann swiftly revealed when he was brought early into the attack. The pitch is surprisingly dry, perhaps because it has been protected from the rains in this moist summer and the footmarks are in such a position to encourage any self-respecting finger spinner.
This was exactly the sort of cricket that this alluring series required. The first day, adorned by Alastair Cook's skilful 20th Test century, was worryingly bereft of excitement. When the second morning dawned muggy, there was an immediate suspicion that it might help the swinging ball.
But something more than cloud cover and a steamy warmth was needed and that was bowlers capable of capitalising. The most obvious transformation, the one that counted above all was in Dale Steyn.
Throughout much of the first day, Steyn's status as the world's number one bowler looked at odds with the man bowling. But now here he was in his stride and in his pomp.
He had already bowled a couple of inswingers to Cook when he found one which took the inside edge and careered into the stumps. In Steyn's next over, he had Ravi Bopara wondering whether to hook a short ball, vaguely opting to leave and in the end doing neither with conviction.
Steyn might have been bowling furiously but this was not an impressive way to be dismissed. Bopara now has five ducks in his 18 innings at this level, a higher proportion than any specialist batsman.
He deserves this series to lay claim to a place but his past probably indicates that the selectors will not be minded to allow him much time beyond that. All batsmen fail in such pressing circumstances but it was not the first time that Bopara had looked slightly dozy in doing so.
Those wickets from Steyn changed the complexion of the morning and possibly the match. From a position of almost casual dominance, England were left hanging on for survival and the swinging ball made that a taxing proposition.
The action was remorseless. Matt Prior could and should have been run out when he set off for single after pushing the ball firmly to gully, not for a moment reckoning on Alviro Petersen's spectacular diving stop. But the throw was not as pristine as the save and a stranded Prior survived.
But when Ian Bell was out, England had added only 17 runs in the morning for the loss of three wickets. It was a lovely piece of bowling from Jacques Kallis as he bowled three away swingers to the batsman, followed by an inswinger which Bell failed to read, left and had his bail trimmed.
Prior, helped by Tim Bresnan, Broad and Swann, asserted himself. He might have been caught by Jacques Rudolph in the gully when he was 17 but this did not deter his typical pugnacity.
Something is always happening when Prior is at the crease and swinging ball or not he was always looking to give it a decent wallop. There were a couple of streaky boundaries past or through slip but they were matched by crisply despatched pulls and drives on the off side.
He survived a review when on 27 and his 26th score past 50 in 82 Test innings was eminently deserved. He was ninth out for 60 from 90 balls.
Morne Morkel, who took the first two wickets of the innings also took the last pair and South Africa were nominally left with slightly under the half the day to bat. If the atmosphere had changed, the mood was still fraught with tension as Anderson swung the ball this way and that.
He perplexed Alviro Petersen, finishing him off with an inswinger after a couple going the other way. But the rain arrived and that was as good as it got for England.
Timeline: How South Africa fought back at The Oval
11.13am: Wicket, England 271-4 Cook 115
After batting for all of day one, Cook goes in the third over of day two. He steps to drive Dale Steyn but does not get there: he can only inside-edge the ball on to his off-stump.
11.23am: Wicket, England 272-5 Bopara 0
A bad return to Test cricket: Bopara hooks his sixth ball back to AB De Villiers. A second wicket for Steyn.
11.52am: Wicket, England 284-6 Bell 13
England are in trouble as Bell is outwitted by Kallis, who tempts him into leaving one which comes in just enough to clip and dislodge the off bail.
12.42pm: Wicket, England 313-7 Bresnan 8
Another setback for England: a short, wide ball from Imran Tahir is begging to be punished by Tim Bresnan but his ugly drive comes off the inside edge on to his stumps.
2.13pm: Wicket England 358-8 Broad 16
Stuart Broad and Matt Prior had put on 45 but Vernon Philander swings one back in which clips the top of Broad's off-stump.
2.39pm: Wicket England 383-9 Prior 60
The counter-attack is over, as Prior edges a drive from Morne Morkel behind to De Villiers. He had scored a very useful 60 from 90 balls.
2.44pm: Wicket England 385 all out Anderson 2
A fifth catch for the stand-in De Villiers ends the innings. Jimmy Anderson tries to turn Morkel round the leg-side but can only softly glove the ball.
3.06pm: Wicket Sth Africa 1-1 Petersen 0
Anderson strikes early with a perfect inswinger. It swerves through Alviro Petersen's gate and hits his back leg.
4.07pm: South Africa 27-1
Heavy rain takes the players off soon after tea with Graeme Smith and Hashim Amla rebuilding. They do not return again until 5.55pm for the final overs.
The Oval scoreboard
The Kia Oval (Second day of five): South Africa are trailing England by 299 runs with 9 first-innings wickets in hand; England won toss
England: First Innings Overnight 267-3 (Trott 71)
A N Cook b Steyn 115, 295 balls 1 sixes 11 fours
I R Bell b Kallis 13, 56 balls 0 sixes 2 fours
R S Bopara c de Villiers b Steyn 0, 6 balls 0 sixes 0 fours
†M J Prior c de Villiers b Morkel 60, 90 balls 0 sixes 9 fours
T T Bresnan b Tahir 8, 32 balls 0 sixes 1 fours
S C J Broad b Philander 16, 28 balls 0 sixes 2 fours
G P Swann not out 15, 20 balls 0 sixes 3 fours
J M Anderson c de Villiers b Morkel 2, 4 balls 0 sixes 0 fours
Extras (b2 lb24 w3 nb14) 43
Total (125.5 overs) 385
Fall 1-0, 2-170, 3-251, 4-271, 5-272, 6-284, 7-313, 8-358, 9-383.
Bowler Spells M Morkel: 24.5-2-72-4 (5nb, 2wd) (5-0-18-1; 5-1-9-0; 4-0-13-1; 4-1-4-0; 5-0-23-0; 1.5-0-5-2), VD Philander: 27-4-79-1 (7nb) (6-0-14-0; 5-2-14-0; 2-0-9-0; 3-0-11-0; 5-2-8-0; 6-0-23-1), DW Steyn: 30-7-99-2 (6-1-17-0; 3-1-12-0; 4-1-10-0; 4-1-12-0; 9-3-19-2; 4-0-29-0), JH Kallis: 19-7-38-2 (1wd) (5-1-13-0; 5-0-11-0; 4-2-10-1; 5-4-4-1), Imran Tahir: 19-0-61-1 (2nb) (1-0-1-0; 8-0-24-0; 1-0-4-0; 5-0-22-0; 3-0-6-1; 1-0-4-0), JP Duminy: 6-1-10-0 (2-0-3-0; 4-1-7-0)
South Africa: First Innings
*G C Smith not out 37, 118 balls 0 sixes 4 fours
A N Petersen lbw b Anderson 0, 8 balls 0 sixes 0 fours
H M Amla not out 47, 97 balls 0 sixes 6 fours
Extras (lb1 nb1) 2
Total (for 1, 37 overs) 86
To bat J H Kallis, †A B de Villiers, J A Rudolph, J P Duminy, V D Philander, D W Steyn, M Morkel, Imran Tahir.
Bowler Spells JM Anderson: 10-3-27-1 (1nb) (6-3-15-1; 4-0-12-0), SCJ Broad: 10-4-20-0 (10-4-20-0), GP Swann: 9-5-12-0 (5-1-12-0; 4-4-0-0), TM Bresnan: 6-1-19-0 (6-1-19-0), RS Bopara: 2-0-7-0 (2-0-7-0)
Test Progress Second day: 300 runs in 108.3 overs, Lunch: 326-7 in 115 overs (Prior 32, Broad 8), 350 runs in 118.6 overs, Prior 50 off 75 balls (9 fours), 385 all out in 125.5 overs, Tea: 25-1 in 11 overs (Smith 14, Amla 10), Rain: 27-1 in 12 overs (Smith 16, Amla 10), 50 runs in 21.1 overs, Close: 86-1 in 37 overs (Smith 37, Amla 47).
Umpires Asad Rauf (Pakistan) & SJ Davis (Australia)
TV Umpire HDPK Dharmasena (Sri Lanka)
Match Referee JJ Crowe (New Zealand)