England v South Africa, 3rd Investec Test, Lord's, 3rd day August 18, 2012

Another big moment for South Africa

Jacques Kallis missed out on a chance to finally make his mark at Lord's as the tourists' No. 1 challenge reached a critical stage

When South Africa readied themselves to jostle with England for the No. 1 ranking, they focused some of their time on planning for the big moments. It was the catches that make for the best photographs, the centuries that are scored where a run would fear to tread and the wickets that are taken despite those centuries that would decide the best of the best.

One of their biggest moments has now come. Although the match is not South Africa's to win, enough time remains for it to be theirs to lose and how they go about avoiding that will be one of deciding factors of the series. On the batting front, South Africa will have to do it without the two heaviest of their heavyweight line-up - Graeme Smith and Jacques Kallis.

Kallis, in particular, is a significant loss in the wider context. His batting has probably been on display at Lord's for the last time and it did not show itself in the way he would have wanted it to. In three matches, Kallis has scored only 54 runs at the ground. Before the second innings he had collected just 23 runs. It's not just that Kallis has not been on the honours board at Lord's, it's that he has not even come close to it.

No matter how many times Kallis repeats that accolades and statistics don't matter to him now, his reaction to his dismissal said something else. He was denied in the first innings, after a bizarre third umpire's call gave him out despite replays that showed his hand was not on the bat when the glove made contact with the ball, and there was mild annoyance as he left the field. Knowing that the second innings would likely be his last batting stint at one of the sport's most hallowed theatres must have been on his mind when he arrived at the crease with South Africa 50 for 2.

So much opportunity presented itself. There was the chance to score a series-defining innings (his century at The Oval was a footnote to Smith's 100th-Test hundred and Amla's record-breaking 331) and rescue South Africa from trouble. There was also the chance to write his name into the only part of cricketing history it has failed to be inscribed on.

On both counts Kallis missed out and, unlike the call on day one, he had nothing to complain about second time around. Despite emphatic gestures to his bat, brandishing of the willow and a wave of words as he walked off, there was little to support that Kallis had been hard done by. His was a dismissal that technology needed to prove was clearly not out after Simon Taufel had raised his finger.

Hot Spot gave no indication that contact had been made and replays showed the ball had passed between bat and pad and Kallis was hit on the back leg. Without any conclusive evidence to overturn the decision, Taufel's call was rightly upheld and Kallis Lord's hoodoo remains. When his career in remembered, this will be brought up as his only blot. Should South Africa go on to be crowned the top-ranked Test team after his match, the dark spot will be a few shades lighter.

But that will depend on factors out of Kallis' control. It will hinge on whether the other batsman can hold their nerve to play the big moments in the same way he so often has and whether the XI as a unit can make something happen, where they have sometimes not been able to.

South Africa do not have a good record of consecutive Test wins. Their solid record comes from not losing. A typical series for them includes one authoritative performance and a few gutsy draws. In this series, the domination has already come. Assistant coach Russell Domingo described the win at The Oval as the "perfect game" and said "to match that would be difficult". The draw came at Headingley, where if weather was not involved the result may have been different.

What next? In South Africa's last three three-Test series, against India, Sri Lanka and New Zealand, they have drawn, won and drawn the last Test, after losing the second against both India and Sri Lanka. Had they won the match against India in 2010-11, they would have earned a series win and the No. 1 ranking. But the draw came as a relief after Kallis had to bat with a side strain to save the match. In big moments like those, South Africa had been endured but not prospered.

This series has been different so far. The belief and confidence of the team is stronger than it has ever been in the past and if the big moments are considered in their widest possible form, South Africa have triumphed.

Alastair Cook could have gone on from his 114 after the first day at The Oval but all he was able to do was add one more run before playing on. Alviro Petersen and Jacques Rudolph could have succumbed in the first hour on the second day at Headingley but they battled through, scoring only 36 runs and seeing off six maidens up front. Kevin Pietersen's 149 could have bloated into a double century and more but Morne Morkel culled him in the first over of the fourth day at Headingley.

Another watershed moment like that one awaits. Of the major run-scorers for South Africa so far, only one remains - Hashim Amla. Potential and talent makes up the rest. AB de Villiers, who has made his biggest scores in recent times only when platforms have been laid, is capable and then some. Rudolph, JP Duminy and even Vernon Philander can all bat but what goes on in their minds will end up being more important.

The challenge facing them is not one of technique or skill but one of temperament. For the first time in the series, the middle order will come under real pressure to post a total that South Africa can defend. They have not needed in that capacity yet and when they were, in the first innings it was left to Philander. Leaving it that late again would likely not translate into a victory of the big moment, but more importantly, it could cost South Africa the biggest moment - that of becoming world No.1.

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent