England escape in grandstand finale
England 356 (Swann 81, Harris 5-123) and 228 for 9 (Pietersen 81, Trott 69) drew with South Africa 418 (Kallis 120, Swann 5-110) and 301 for 6 dec (Amla 100)
Scorecard and ball-by-ball details
Paul Collingwood completed the job he had begun at Cardiff in the opening Test of the Ashes, and the No. 11 Graham Onions repelled a fiery final over from Makhaya Ntini, as England survived a massive collapse against the second new ball to cling onto a draw and move onto the second Test in Durban with the series still level.
In a sensational finale to the match, England had been coasting to the draw at 172 for 3 after tea, following a restorative 145-run stand between Jonathan Trott and Kevin Pietersen that spanned the entire second session, and settled England's nerves after they had been dicily placed at 27 for 3 inside the first hour of an eventful day.
But neither man was able to see out the job. Pietersen produced a total brain-freeze to run himself out for 81 in the second over of the final session, but it was the debutant seamer, Friedel de Wet, who transformed a meandering finale and set South Africa up for a sensational new-ball heist. In seven overs of unplayable intensity, he claimed 3 for 11 including the key scalp of Trott for 69, and after a collapse of 5 for 13 in 11.1 overs, only Collingwood's determination and Onions' unexpectedly watchful technique stood between England and the abyss.
While Trott and Pietersen had been in situ throughout a docile afternoon, such a sensational denouement was seemingly out of the question. South Africa's captain, Graeme Smith, was so bereft of ideas that even the injured Jacques Kallis was brought out of mothballs for an exploratory spell. But then, in the second over after the break and with a century there for the taking after four months out of the side following Achilles surgery, Pietersen launched into a suicidal quick single into the covers, and kept running straight into the dressing-room as his motionless partner, Trott, blinked incredulously from the non-striker's end.
Pietersen has a penchant for daft dismissals when well set, and given what had happened to England during three of his most memorable giveaways - at Edgbaston in 2008, and Sabina Park and Cardiff earlier this year - those of a superstitious disposition were advised to look away.
At first, however, his rush of blood had little impact on the contest. Trott, with his feet rooted in his crease and with not even half an eye on his slowly mounting score, found in Collingwood the perfect partner to mimic such methods, and for 20 further overs they withstood all attempts at further breakthroughs. But all throughout the day, there had been one final opportunity lying in wait for South Africa, and when Smith called for the new ball with 16 overs of the day remaining, de Wet and his fielders responded with pure inspiration.
Ntini was given first use, and he served notice of the jitters to follow when he called for a third-ball review as Collingwood padded up to a ball that was just skimming past off stump. It was de Wet's skiddy bounce, however, that opened the floodgates, as he speared a vicious lifter into Trott's right thumb, for AB de Villiers at third slip to pull off an outrageous one-handed take as he dived full-length to his left.
Trott was gone for 69 from 212 balls of grit and guts stretched across more than five hours, but de Villiers' brilliance sent a jolt of adrenalin through his team-mates. Of all the pressure situations into which he could have been pitched, the scenario facing Ian Bell was the last thing he needed after his first-innings humiliation. De Wet sensed his unease and tormented his outside edge, and Mark Boucher behind the stumps pulled off South Africa's second blinder in the space of four overs - this time low to his right.
The sight of Matt Prior at No. 8 was far more reassuring to England's anxious fans on Centurion's grassy banks, but de Wet by now was unstoppable. With low bounce presumed to be the deadliest weapon on this surface, the debutant instead startled Prior with a fizzing lifter off the seam to hand Boucher his second catch of the spell, and de Wet his third scalp in 20 balls. Stuart Broad was the next to go, caught behind for a fifth-ball duck as Paul Harris was cannily introduced to mix up the pace, and not even the last of England's reviews could save Graeme Swann as Morne Morkel slid another unplayable grubber into his front pad.
At 218 for 9, the runs on the board were utterly irrelevant - all that mattered were the 19 deliveries that remained to be negotiated in the match. That tally was 50 fewer than England's last pair had negotiated at Cardiff, but Onions, with a career average of 6.33 in five Tests, inspired barely any more confidence than Monty Panesar had done on that incredible final day in July.
And yet, Onions did what he had to do - he got determinedly behind the line of the ball after Collingwood flicked a four through midwicket when all he'd been seeking was a single to keep the strike, and he even jammed his bat down on another grubber from Ntini this time, who was handed the final over of the match on a whim from his captain, Graeme Smith, but could not produce the killer delivery to wrap up his 100th Test in style. The final delivery of the game was blocked solidly outside off stump, as Onions pumped his fist in quiet celebration and Collingwood - almost forgotten at the other end despite an invaluable 26 not out from 99 balls - permitted himself a wry grin of satisfaction.
At Cardiff, Collingwood had been the tortured soul in the changing room, unable to influence the closing stages of the game having battled so hard to set up the rearguard with his doggedly brilliant 74. Today, that role belonged to Trott, who had arrived at the crease in the third over of the day following the extraction of the nightwatchman, James Anderson, and launched his innings with such introspection that he took 63 deliveries to reach double figures.
Trott's initial cageyness was understandable, given that the first hour of each innings had been the business period for wicket-taking, and when Alastair Cook was caught at leg slip from the first delivery he faced from the spin of Harris, England were 27 for 3 and reeling. With his nerves more apparent than had been the case at any stage of his Ashes debut last August, Trott struggled to stamp his authority on the proceedings, and showed a particular reluctance to commit to the front foot, a tactic he had used to such good effect during his century on debut.
Instead, it was Pietersen who took the initiative and injected some urgency to England's innings. He had one big let-off on 39 when de Wet overstepped for a plumb lbw appeal, but by taking on the drive, he released the pressure of the close-catchers at his end, and enabled Trott to focus on his more gritty approach to survival, which rarely involved fewer than five men round the bat. For three hours and 43 overs, their blend of passivity and aggression drew the sting clean out of the contest. But then came Pietersen's Red Bull run, and suddenly a meandering finale mutated into a thriller for the ages.
Andrew Miller is UK editor of Cricinfo