Doubtless, England felt badly treated for long enough yesterday. Nothing was going right for them as the end of the third day approached in the first Test. They must have wanted to complain to somebody, anybody, that it just was not fair.
Their mood of gloom was easy to sense. But then suddenly out of nowhere and under a clear blue sky, emerged Graeme Swann to play an innings of breathtaking élan. It was sufficient to allay the most grievous suffering and it reiterated that this side led by Andrew Strauss will find tenacity from somewhere.
By the close, England had dragged themselves back into the contest. South Africa are favourites but having lost a second-innings wicket in the four gripping overs they had to bat in the evening and leading by 71 runs, they will know that the fat lady is hardly yet gargling in the wings.
It is probable now that one of these teams will leave here with a crucial lead in the four-match series. That it could be England is thanks almost (but not quite) exclusively to Swann's bravura intervention. Already the taker of five wickets, he joyously hooked, drove and switch-hit the tourists back into the match. He careered to 85 from 81 balls, carving 10 fours and whacking two sixes on the way.
It was the highest score by an England No 9 since Peter Lever scored 88 not out against India in 1971. The manner of his runs reflected the manner of the man. He was having fun and lots of it. Instead of having a huge deficit – the saving of the follow-on target of 219 looked in doubt at one time – England trailed by a mere 62.
They were still in a hole but Swann was intent on clawing them out of it in ferocious fashion. He and Jimmy Anderson shared a partnership of 106, England's highest for the ninth wicket against South Africa. If Swann was the grand swashbuckler, Anderson was an ideal henchman and hit the first six of his Test career in an invaluable 104 minutes which brought him 29 runs. If now he can only perform the day job properly, England might yet get something out of this match.
Presumably encouraged by his batting, he struck with the sixth ball of South Africa's second innings as the ball shaped in, took Ashley Prince's inside edge and crashed into the stumps. There were no further alarms. There had been enough incident for one Test match day.
How long it took for the tourists to reach a state of relative happiness. The first two sessions of the third day belonged so firmly to South Africa that a 1-0 lead beckoned sometime on the fourth day. England were hesitant, distrusting of the pitch and frequently misguided.
The feeling that nothing would go right was compounded, inevitably, by the dreaded Decision Review System. It is to blame for everything these days – poor judgement by players, delays in play, the price of fish – and England appeared again to be on the receiving end.
Two of their players were victims. Kevin Pietersen went because the system does not cover every eventuality and he might have been dismissed by a no-ball. Stuart Broad departed later after South Africa took an age to ask for another look at a rejected lbw appeal, the suspicion being that they acted on dressing-room advice.
Broad was rightly given out when the predictive technology showed that the ball would have hit the stumps. Before leaving the arena, Broad inadvisedly approached umpire Aleem Dar. It was a mess. The umpires should not have granted South Africa leave for a review because they took more than 30 seconds to decide, Broad certainly should not have approached the match official in such a way. England subsequently launched an official complaint over South Africa's tardiness.
These unfortunate incidents, however, masked the fact that England were architects of their own hardship. Stifled by a pitch that was suddenly displaying signs of capriciousness, they were undone by the playing of reckless and thoughtless shots, or in the spectacular case of Ian Bell, a non-shot.
Until Swann, shirt fastened to the top and collar up, walked to the crease in an apparently forlorn cause, the litany of misjudgements seemed endless. The doubts were probably instilled by the dismissal of Strauss in the 11th over of the day.
A few deliveries had already kept worryingly low and England's captain was hardly at fault for being bowled by a grubber from Makhaya Ntini. It was lucky it was before 11am, otherwise the South Africa team's sponsors might have had a greater uptake on their offer of a beer to every spectator when Ntini took his first wicket in his 100th Test.
England batted as if they might have had plenty of the product in question. Jonathan Trott, hemmed in by his old school rival Paul Harris, finally succumbed to temptation and was bowled on the charge. Although Kevin Pietersen played sweetly at times in his first Test innings in South Africa and his first of any kind since July, the tempo dictated by the pitch was not for him and it was no surprise when drove over-ambitiously at Morne Morkel.
Most bizarrely, Bell shouldered arms to a straight ball from Harris which bowled him. There could be no more embarrassing dismissal for a senior batsman. Matt Prior essayed a needless top-edged sweep to square leg. Paul Collingwood's typically stoic 50 was ended by one of the few balls from Harris that turned and Broad went in acrimony. And then, smiling all the way, came Swann.
Turning points: How the Centurion Park action unfolded
*10.55am Low blow
The first grubber of the day from Makhaya Ntini and England must fear the worst. An over later, Andrew Strauss can do nothing about another subterranean delivery.
*10.59pm Surprising welcome
Kevin Pietersen is greeted with an indifferent reception rather than the expected chorus of boos.
*12.00pm Rush of blood
Having survived precariously all morning, Jonathan Trott succumbs to his best mate Paul Harris, unable to contain his containment any longer.
*12.25pm Sudden release
Pietersen relieves pressure in typical style by lifting a low full toss for six but England still score only 55 from 27 overs in the first session.
*1.38pm Pietersen falls
Pietersen ends his first Test innings in his homeland with a whimper and a neither one thing nor the other score, 40, (so unlike him) as he inside edges an impatient drive on to his stumps.
Jaw jutting as ever, Paul Collingwood passes 50 but then edges to slip.
*3.44pm Broad frowns
Stuart Broad is given out in contentious circumstances as South Africa take an age to ask for a rejected lbw appeal to be reviewed, on the advice of their dressing room it seems. Broad questions the umpire before departing.
*5.33pm Swann's heroics end
Graeme Swann's remarkable 85 comes to an end as that spoilsport Graeme Smith takes a simple catch some five yards in from the boundary. Having looked second best for much of the day, England are back in it.
*5.46pm Princely exit
Jimmy Anderson bowls Ashwell Prince with the sixth ball of South Africa's second innings. A potentially thrilling final two days now lie in wait.
Centurion Park: Scoreboard
Centurion Park (Third day of five) South Africa lead England by 71 runs with nine second-innings wickets remaining
England won toss
SOUTH AFRICA First Innings 418 (Kallis 120, Duminy 56; Swann 5-110).
ENGLAND First Innings
*A J Strauss b Ntini: 46
87 balls 6 fours
I J L Trott b Harris: 28
117 balls 3 fours
K P Pietersen b Morkel: 40
79 balls 3 fours 1 six
P D Collingwood c Kallis b Harris: 50
88 balls 5 fours 1 six
I R Bell b Harris: 5
16 balls 1 four
M J Prior c De Wet b Harris: 4
S C J Broad lbw b Duminy: 17
34 balls 2 fours
G P Swann c Smith b Harris: 85
81 balls 10 fours 2 sixes
J M Anderson c Morkel b Ntini: 29
78 balls 4 fours 1 six
G Onions not out: 4
5 balls 1 four
Extras (b 8, lb 8, w 5, nb 12) 33
Total (104 overs) 356
Bowling: M Ntini 23-4-78-2 (5-0-17-0, 2-1-1-0, 5-2-7-1, 1-1-0-0, 3-0-10-0, 4-0-32-0, 1-0-2-0, 2-0-9-1), F de Wet 20-3-72-1 (w1, nb6) (5-0-31-1, 2-0-15-0, 5-3-7-0, 5-1-11-0, 3-1-9-0), M Morkel 21-0-60-1 (nb6) (3-0-11-0, 5-0-11-0, 2-0-2-0, 4-0-11-1, 3-0-6-0, 3-0-17-0), P L Harris 37-10-123-5 (4-2-7-0, 1-0-4-0, 24-6-79-4, 5-0-24-0, 3-2-9-1), J P Duminy 3-0-7-1 (one spell).
Progress Third day: 100: 30.0 overs, Lunch: 143-3 (J Trott 26, K Pietersen 10) 50.0 overs, 150: 51.5 overs, 200: 63.1 overs, Tea: 238-7 (S Broad 16, G Swann 6) 76.0 overs, 250: 83.0 overs, 300: 89.5 overs, 350: 102.5 overs.
SOUTH AFRICA Second Innings
A G Prince b Anderson: 0
*G C Smith not out: 6
12 balls 1 four
P L Harris not out: 2
Extras (lb 1) 1
Total (1 wkt, 4 overs) 9
Fall: 1-2 (Prince).
To bat: H M Amla, J H Kallis, A B de Villiers, J P Duminy, †M V Boucher, M Morkel, M Ntini, F L de Wet.
Bowling: J Anderson 2-0-5-1 (one spell), G Onions 2-1-3-0 (one spell).
Umpires: Aleem Dar (Pak) & S J Davis (Aus).
TV replay umpire : A M Saheba (India).
Match referee: B G Jerling (SA).
Weather: Sunny with partial cloud. TV: Sky Sports 1, HD1.