Hundreds from captain Graeme Smith and fellow opener Neil McKenzie gave South Africa hope of forcing what would be a remarkable draw against England in the first Test at Lord's.
South Africa, heading into Monday's final day were 242 for one -- still needing another 104 runs to make England bat again -- after following-on, having been bowled out for 247 in reply to the hosts' 593 for eight declared.
But, importantly, they'd lost just one wicket during the whole of Sunday's play and with the pitch still proving to be a good one for batting, England's attack were going to have produce something special to take the nine wickets they needed to have a chance of going 1-0 up in this four-match series.
At stumps McKenzie was 104 not out, having defied England for six hours and 46 minutes with the stylish Hashim Amla unbeaten on 20.
"We needed to bounce back," said Smith who admitted his team came into the match "undercooked".
"My preparation was not ideal but I just focused on what was important. We knew that if we could get through the new ball we should be OK. It was a slow pitch and (England skipper) Michael (Vaughan) set defensive fields."
Smith paid tribute to McKenzie and the understanding they have developed at the top of the order.
"All credit to him. He's a had a great comeback in his career. We are both from the same school and know each other's games well, our strengths and weaknesses.
England were frustrated by an admirable partnership of 204 between Smith and McKenzie.
But when it seemed the duo might become the first pair since Australia's Geoff Marsh and Mark Taylor at Trent Bridge in 1989 to bat through a whole day of a Test in England, the ninth delivery with the new ball ended their stand.
Smith -- dropped twice by wicket-keeper Tim Ambrose -- was through an attempted pull off James Anderson too early, the ball hitting the toe-end of the bat and lobbing gently to Kevin Pietersen as the South Africa-born batsman ran in from backward point.
Left-hander Smith, who in the corresponding match five years ago made 259, the highest individual score by an overseas batsman in a Lord's Test, had battle for five hours and 42 minutes, facing 207 balls with 11 fours.
This was South Africa's tenth Test first wicket partnership of 200 or more and, impressively, Smith had now featured in seven of them.
McKenzie kept going and a single off Stuart Broad saw the 32-year-old to his fifth Test hundred and first against England off 307 balls with 13 fours.
At tea, Smith was 71 not out and McKenzie 50 not out with England struggling on slow surface at Lord's, where no side had won a Test since Australia in 2005.
Smith, who cleverly countered Monty Panesar's turn out of the foot-marks by playing him from way outside off-stump, took a three off the left-arm spinner to complete his 15th Test century and third against England.
One of the few things England captain Michael Vaughan, who set an array of unusual fields, didn't try in his quest to take a wicket was bowl himself.
This may well have been a consequence of the occasional off-spinner's longstanding knee injury, which flared up in the build-up to this match.
Instead he tried a few overs from Pietersen, who nearly dismissed Smith for 107, with a delivery that spun sharply out of the rough only for Ambrose to put down the chance.
Earlier, as over after over passed without a wicket, the normally reserved Lord's crowd did their best to encourage England by roaring and clapping as the bowlers ran in.
England first came close to taking a wicket on Sunday during the morning session when Smith, on 26, got a thin inside edge off Panesar, who'd taken four for 74 in the first innings.
But Ambrose had stood up too soon and the difficult chance bounced off his pads.
South Africa resumed on Sunday on 13 without loss, a huge 333 runs behind after England's Ian Bell had made a Test-best 199 and Pietersen 152 in his first Test innings against the land of his birth.