Eastern Province opener Carl Bradfield batted for the whole day at Kingsmead on Monday to ensure their SuperSport Series Super Eights match against Natal ended in a draw.
With Eastern Province behind by 196 runs on first innings, Bradfield scored 154 not out off 323 balls as he spent seven-and-a-quarter hours at the crease. His innings was not just one of stubborn defence though, he struck the Natal bowlers for 19 fours as he scored all round the wicket and proved to be the main stumbling block for the home side.
Natal had entertained thoughts of breaking through when Eastern Province lost three wickets before lunch, but Bradfield, in partnership with Mark Rushmere, took the visitors to safety.
Rushmere, who played in South Africa's first Test since isolation in 1992, showed that, even at the age of 34, he remains a batsman of great quality.
In a ferocious onslaught after lunch, he went from 16 to 94 in just 80 balls, his elegant innings, studded with 12 fours and two sixes, ending when he was run out by Dale Benkenstein.
After Bradfield and Rushmere's 155-run stand, the Eastern Province innings subsided from 276 for three to 293 for six, but Shafiek Abrahams (20 not out) stayed with the left-handed opener to ensure Natal's period of excitement was brief.
Natal's five frontline bowlers - Veenstra, Gilder, Baptiste, Pietersen and Kent - had little comfort from the conditions, the Kingsmead pitch in no way resembling the well-grassed strip of yore. Wickets were always going to be very hard to come by as banging the ball in brought a subdued response from the pitch, which was about as lively as a plank of wood lying forgotten in the back garden, and what turn there was, was also slow and untroubling for the batsmen.
The damage done to the Eastern Province batting line-up was largely self-inflicted. The main impression of left-arm paceman Gary Gilder's bowling from this match is one of undisciplined line and length, but he picked up the day's first wicket without needing the lifeless pitch. A very bad slower ball surprised Mark Benfield (43) and the opener hit the full toss straight to short cover.
James Bryant (1), who showed his worth in his first innings' 62, sliced a drive straight back to bowler Kevin Pietersen, who then undid Dave Callaghan (9) with a long-hop that was edged to wicketkeeper Errol Stewart.
Rushmere's run out was in the same category, while mention must also be made of Wayne Murray's loose cut that saw him caught behind off Eldine Baptiste for seven.
Natal will travel to the Wanderers to take on Gauteng over the weekend in what will be one of the season's key games. Benkenstein will lead Natal knowing that victory will see his team back in the pound seats as far as reaching the SuperSport Series final is concerned, Gauteng currently sharing second place with them on 47 points.
Slipping up at the Wanderers will make reaching the final a murky prospect, but at least another draw is unlikely on a pitch that has produced positive results on every occasion this season.
Victories by visiting teams to the Wanderers are still considered remarkable in South African first-class cricket, however, and Natal may yet rue the 10 points that slipped through their hands against Eastern Province because their home pitch became progressively slower and friendlier for batsmen. Hopefully things will change for the Boxing Day Test and Natal's final Super Eights home game, against Northerns in January.
There is little doubt Natal coach Phil Russell will be having a little word in the ear of his successor as groundsman, Wilson Ngobese, to perhaps make Kingsmead a little less of a batting haven.