Jonny Bairstow proved an able deputy, in exacting circumstances, for the controversially absent Kevin Pietersen as England stayed in contention in the must-win Lord's Test.
Bairstow (72no), playing only because England dropped the mercurial Pietersen over his text-message faux pas and ongoing contract wrangles, demonstrated skill and resolution in a maiden Test 50 as he and Ian Bell (58) shared a crucial century stand in England's 208 for five by stumps on day two.
The pair joined forces against an unrelenting South Africa attack, in full flow, after England faltered to 54 for four in reply to 309 all out.
Andrew Strauss, in his landmark 100th Test and 50th as captain on his home ground, was bowled through the gate by Morne Morkel just when it seemed he and Alastair Cook had given their team a sound start.
Morkel has therefore proved Strauss' downfall nine times in 12 Tests to date, and there was a familiar ring to Jonathan Trott's dismissal too - the first of two in four balls for Dale Steyn.
This time, Steyn got his man lbw - via DRS, after Kumar Dharmasena initially reprieved Trott - and then Alastair Cook ended his increasingly uncomfortable and unconvincing stay when he chased a push-drive and edged to second slip, where Jacques Kallis expertly held on to a sharp chance.
England had lost their top three for just 10 runs either side of lunch - and suddenly, in this match they must win to level the Investec series and hang on to their world number one status, they were in trouble.
James Taylor, in only his second Test, edged behind off Morkel to Graeme Smith at first slip - leaving Bell and Bairstow under extreme pressure.
Bairstow was always batting at a slightly quicker tempo than Bell, bringing up his 86-ball 50 in fortunate fashion with an edge at catchable height just wide of the slips for four off Morkel.
Three of his eight boundaries to that point had come in calculated leg-side attack in the same over from leg-spinner Imran Tahir, as he and Bell cashed in on their own hard work before the latter edged Vernon Philander low to third slip.