After the first Test at Lord's, Mickey Arthur promised that the real South Africa would turn up at Headingley. And so they did, with an emphatic 10-wicket win over England. They were made to work for their victory today, but with England only squeaking a lead of eight runs, it is South Africa who have taken a 1-0 series lead with two Tests to play. England have plenty to ponder.
However great the feeling of inevitability was that England wouldn't survive six sessions, they didn't lie down submissively and wait for the axe to fall. South Africa were frustrated by Alastair Cook and James Anderson at the start of the day; by Stuart Broad and Darren Pattinson at the end. Broad smacked his third Test fifty and most authoritative to date, with 11 perfectly timed fours in a partnership of 61 in just 12.3 overs with Pattinson.
Broad has improved with each of his Test innings, but while his batting average is going in the right direction, he is taking his wickets at forties. Not that his place was directly under threat today, but his innings of 67 not out was a timely reminder of how valuable he is at No.8. His back-foot play through the leg-side off Jacques Kallis and Dale Steyn was remarkable for the timing he showed, twice swivelling on shorter deliveries to lift them over the infield. After bringing up his fifty from just 41 balls, a powerful cover drive off Makhaya Ntini handed England the lead, though Pattinson was bowled shortly afterwards to end the entertainment. Graeme Smith and Neil McKenzie knocked off the nine runs in seven balls as South Africa recorded an emphatic 10-wicket win.
South Africa have enjoyed the better of the conditions, truth be told, but such is the advantage of winning the toss at Headingley. Regardless of the pitch, however, their bowling performance was far improved from their Lord's display. Today's effort with the ball was a team performance. Steyn and Morkel each took three apiece; Kallis and Ntini two. Even Paul Harris briefly threatened, even though he went wicketless. Graeme Smith's seamers were made to work for their wickets, however, and England nearly managed to survive until lunch unscathed, thanks to a partnership of 59 between Cook and Anderson.
Anderson played with impressive composure and no shortage of class, though South Africa passed the edge of his bat on numerous occasions. Morkel and Ntini opened the bowling and Anderson, mostly playing off the back foot, was beaten twice by Morkel as the fourth-day pitch began to show worrying variable bounce. Balls shot through; the occasional one from Morkel, with his extra height, spat up, but it was an early concern for South Africa that they extracted so little movement.
Cook showed excellent judgement of his off stump all morning and the pair began to irritate South Africa with impish running between the wickets. If anything, it caught South Africa off-guard. Anderson was particularly eager, nudging singles out to cover and midwicket and taking on the fielders. These were decidedly dangerous runs, but South Africa's wild throws missed the stumps repeatedly. England were beginning to really frustrate them.
A languid cut by Anderson demonstrated his growing confidence, and he bettered it with two excellent fours off Harris, threading him through cover with the panache of a No.4. Steyn, meanwhile - delayed into the attack until the 12th over of the day - persisted with a war of bouncers against both batsman, and only when he pitched it up did he trouble the two left-handers. He was at his most vicious from around the wicket, however, and rapped Anderson a nasty blow on his forearm that required treatment from the physio .
The next ball, however, really shook Anderson's resolve when the batsman ducked into a bouncer, the grille of his helmet hammering into his right jaw. He was immediately floored, prompting Steyn and Hashim Amla to assess the damage, and though he looked groggy and stunned by the bouncer, he gave a sparse Headingley crowd reason to cheer by deciding to bat on. He only lasted a few more overs, but richly deserved the standing ovation for his courage.
Kevin Pietersen marched to the crease for a frenzied 13 from five balls, and Ian Bell fell to a screaming catch by de Villiers at gully - taking it one-handed, low to his right - while Cook carved out an impressively calm 148-ball fifty. Unlike South Africa's rescue act at Lord's, no England batsman could contribute a hundred, and though Tim Ambrose and Andrew Flintoff briefly threatened to take on the bowlers, South Africa were too disciplined and probing to let England get away.
Some of South Africa's fielders practised their golf swing at mid-on and mid-off earlier in the day, and tomorrow represents a much-needed break for both teams before the third Test gets underway at Edgbaston. England, however, need more than recuperation if they are to bounce back and level the series a week on Wednesday.