Centurion – With the top five all dismissed for a combined 94 runs, it was wicketkeeper Quinton de Kock who saved the Proteas once again with a beautifully crafted 95 (128 balls, 14x4) on day one of the first Test against England at SuperSport Park on Boxing Day.
At stumps, South Africa were 277/9.
Several Proteas batsmen suggested that they were on track for innings of real substance, but it was only De Kock who converted a start into something more meaningful.
The 27-year-old fell agonisingly short of his sixth Test century, and it couldn't have come at a better time with South African cricket looking to start fresh following a tumultuous year both on and off the field.
England skipper Joe Root won the toss and opted to bowl in the scorching highveld heat with an all seam attack, but it wouldn't have mattered with Faf du Plessis confirming that he would have batted first anyway.
For England, Sam Curran (4/57) was the pick of the bowlers with his nagging left-arm seam that continued to draw the South Africans into nibbling at deliveries they should have been leaving.
It could have been a lot worse for the Proteas were it not for an 87-run stand between De Kock and debutant Dwaine Pretorius (33 off 45) for the 6th wicket and then a 47-run stand between De Kock and Vernon Philander (28* off 76) for the 7th.
With those contributions around De Kock, the Proteas got themselves out of their self-made hole to a degree, but England will end the day by far the happier of the sides on a wicket that did show signs of uneven bounce.
The Graeme Smith/Mark Boucher-era got off to the worst possible start from the first ball of the match as the returning James Anderson (1/69), playing in his 150th Test, had Dean Elgar caught behind. It was the softest of dismissals with Elgar playing at a delivery that was going comfortably down the leg side only to find an edge through to wicketkeeper Jos Butler.
Aiden Markram (20 off 23) then played another frustrating innings. It is a recurrence that has started to become all too familiar for the 25-year-old, who had done all of the hard work to see off the new ball pairing of Anderson and Stuart Broad (3/52) before he chipped Curran's seemingly harmless fourth delivery to Jonny Bairstow at midwicket.
Zubayr Hamza, in just his third Test for South Africa, then looked a million bucks. He played with confidence throughout his knock of 39 (72) with a compact defence and an ability to punish anything loose outside off stump.
Having not put a foot wrong all morning, the 24-year-old then had a lapse in concentration when he pushed at a delivery from Broad that he could have left. The result was an edge to Ben Stokes in the cordon to leave the Proteas 71/3.
That brought Rassie van der Dussen on debut and skipper Faf du Plessis together, and the pair held on to get the hosts through to lunch at 79/3, surviving a testing spell from Jofra Archer (1/65) in the process.
Things didn't get any better for the Proteas after the break, though, with Van der Dussen (6 off 34) the next to go. It was soft again from a South African point of view as the highly-rated right-hander edged to Joe Root at first slip off Curran.
De Kock arrived and was an instant breath of fresh air, playing his natural attacking game as he carved the English attack to all parts of SuperSport Park to get the scoreboard moving.
Du Plessis (29 off 80), meanwhile, found himself in a bit of a rut at the other end where he went 14 balls without scoring before edging a probing Broad to Root at slip.
At that stage, the Proteas had slipped to 111/5 with all their top five batsmen back in the hut.
De Kock, though, found a willing and able ally in debutant Pretorius as the South African gloveman continued his relentless attack on the English.
The pair brought up their 50 partnership in just 55 balls, and it that same over De Kock went to his 18th Test half-century having spent just over an hour at the crease, facing only 45 balls and hitting 9 fours on his way there.
Pretorius never looked entirely comfortable against the English pace, but he was quick to pounce on anything loose and took a liking to Root's part-time spin.
By tea, South Africa had recovered to 187/5.
Pretorius was out soon into the third session, though, when he became Curran's third victim and Root's third catch when he also edged to first slip when he didn't need to play. That brought an end to a vital stand for the Proteas, but once again they lost a wicket just as it looked like they were about to get themselves back into a promising position.
At 198/6, Vernon Philander joined De Kock out in the middle just two days after announcing that this would be his final Test series for South Africa.
Philander has always been considered a more than capable batsman, and his country desperately needed him to live up to that billing here.
De Kock slowed down, adopting a more measured approach in the knowledge that he was running out of partners, and he looked to be getting to his centuries in singles before Curran struck yet again with another delivery that drew a faint edge.
Keshav Maharaj (6 off 15) came and went, becoming Archer's first victim of the day, before Kagiso Rabada (12 off 24) was out to Broad with what would be the final ball of the day.
Scores in brief:
SA 277/9 (De Kock 95, Hamza 39, Pretorius 33, Curran 4/57)