England put the brouhaha with Kevin Pietersen behind them, temporarily at least, with the third Test initially taking shape in their favour at Lord's as they fought for the series-levelling victory that they need to prevent South Africa seizing their position as the No 1-ranked Test side in the world.
England's captain, Andrew Strauss, whose statistical achievement in reaching his 100th Test had been largely submerged by the daily Pietersen soap opera, found comfort the moment that he donned his whites and took to the field again in a Lord's milieu that gives him a powerful sense of belonging. He was even caught laughing before the start of play with his coach, Andy Flower, and in recent days that has been a novelty.
This was not an England resurgence, but it was an England recovery of sorts, in which James Anderson led ther way on a day offering encouraging degrees of swing. South Africa lost half their side for 105, but they resisted gamely thereafter and Vernon Philander, whose reputation as an allrounder had previously permeated only South African domestic cricket, will resume the second day only four runs short of his maiden Test half-century. The day finished 14 balls early because of a floodlight failure - extensive enough for Lord's to be deemed innocent.
Were England eventually to succeed at Lord's, the rush to victory would be accompanied by an even greater rush to conclusions. Whatever the rights and wrongs of the Pietersen rumpus, England's pre-match assertions of the team ethic and the need for unity in his absence had an immediate effect. For the first time in the series, England had purpose in the field.
That they prospered, though, owed much to good fortune - including the most inexplicable umpiring decision of the summer; Steven Finn's dismissal of Jacques Kallis, a not-out decision that was reversed after England made use of the DRS system, understandably left South Africa aghast.
Kallis had made 3 when Finn's appeal for a catch down the leg side was turned down by umpire Kumar Dharmasena. England referred and their suspicions that the ball had flicked the glove were upheld. But Rod Tucker, the third umpire, overlooked the fact that Kallis' bottom hand had been withdrawn from the bat when the ball made contact with his glove.
The fault was not with DRS, which seemed to give Tucker all the evidence he needed to uphold Dharmasena's not-out decision, but with what seemed to be a defective conclusion based on the clear evidence available. There was no cause to override Dharmasena's decision. To interpret this as proof of technology's inadequacies is a wilful misinterpretation.
South Africa's frustrations over Kallis' dismissal were deepened by the fact that Alviro Petersen had fallen in similar fashion in Finn's previous over. Again the ball strayed down the leg side, again Finn had the good fortune to brush the glove, but again the bottom hand had been withdrawn from the bat by the time contact was made. The only difference on this occasion was that Petersen did not have the presence of mind to review the decision - an oversight he recognised as he saw the big-screen replay as he left the field.
Finn, preferred to Tim Bresnan on his home turf, had 3 for 22 in seven overs by lunch, but he operated below the standards he set in the ODI series against Australia and West Indies. His best moment came when he brought one back down the slope to bowl Hashim Amla between bat and pad.
It was a good toss for England to lose. They would not have dared to insert South Africa, but the weather was unsettled enough to encourage their fast bowlers. As Yohan Blake, Jamaica's silver medallist over 100 and 200m in the London Olympics, rang the five-minute bell, there was cause to expect England to be fast out of the blocks.
England had won six of their last seven Tests at Lord's. South Africa, however, have not lost here since their readmission to Test cricket and had dominated England with disciplined percentage cricket in the first two Tests.
Graeme Smith, South Africa's rock, fell in the ninth over, another complex decision as England needed to review Dharmasena's not-out decision to prove that the ball had struck Smith's outside edge as well as his bat scratching the ground.
Only AB de Villiers fell between lunch and tea. England lost their second umpiring review when de Villiers was 27, James Anderson failing with a marginal lbw decision as the ball did not quite hit in line, but de Villiers had not added to his score when he drove at Anderson and was held by Alastair Cook at third slip.
Graeme Swann, left out at Headingley, had bowled 52 overs against South Africa in the first Test at The Oval without reward, hindered by a long-standing elbow complaint. He returned, initially at the Nursery End, which did not help his turn, with a Jim Laker hairstyle and, uncharacteristically, a Jim Laker solemnity. The wicket of Jacques Rudolph for 42 in the third over after tea, a poor stroke as he tried to work the ball into the leg side, left him four wickets adrift of England's most celebrated offspinner.
JP Duminy grew from cautious beginnings to continue South Africa's resistance. There are times when a new ball takes wickets merely by the size of its reputation and his demise was one of those moments. He was 61 when England took the second new ball immediately at 235 for 6 and failed to add to that score as he fell to the third delivery, by Anderson.
It was a wide trundler, a ball of such little consequence that the shabbiest ball in a club kit bag could not have performed more inadequately and Duminy stretched to under-edge it to the wicketkeeper. It was a stretch was so unforgiveable that his next stretch should have been in Wormwood Scrubs.
Even Lord's itself then turned on South Africa, to no avail. The failure of two of the floodlights made batting conditions a little murkier (it also removed power for the media, which the ECB has yearned to do for more than a week) and MCC members variously stood up behind the arm to straighten a copy of The Guardian and don a lightweight jacket in a crafty bid for late wickets. When Steyn was struck on the chest, failing to pick up a short ball from Finn, and protested vehemently, enough was enough.