Kevin Pietersen hit a spectacular century to break a stranglehold by the South African bowlers and raise England's hopes on the third day of the second Test at Headingley here today.
Pietersen launched a savage assault after tea, hitting 149 not out as England reached 351 for five at the close, 68 behind South Africa's first innings total of 419.
South Africa suffered a further blow shortly before the close when captain Graeme Smith had to be helped from the field after injuring his left knee in chasing a ball to the boundary.
Until Pietersen cut loose, South Africa had been ahead in a battle of attrition as England struggled to 173 for four at less than three runs an over.
Alastair Cook (24), Andrew Strauss (37) and Jonathan Trott (35) all fell to disciplined bowling after lengthy but not particularly productive stays at the crease.
South Africa struck what seemed a crucial blow shortly before the tea interval when Ian Bell was caught at first slip off Jacques Kallis for 11, leaving Pietersen to rebuild the innings together with new cap James Taylor, who scored his first runs in Test cricket when he drove leg-spinner Imran Tahir past mid-off for four in the final over before tea.
The match changed dramatically after the break. South Africa brought back fast bowlers Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel to put pressure on the diminutive Taylor but it was Pietersen who took charge, slamming 26 runs off 11 balls in a thrilling passage of play.
In a continuation of the duel between the two players in the first Test at the Oval, Morkel sent down a series of bouncers, bowling from around the wicket and challenging Pietersen to take on two fielders on the legside boundary.
Pietersen was dropped at short leg by Hashim Amla off Morkel on 52 but then thrashed the next two balls to the midwicket boundary.