Dwayne Bravo's spell of exceptional stamina and high-class seam bowling, of the sort that earned Courtney Walsh and Glenn McGrath more than 500 Test wickets, inspired a spirited West Indies fight as the second Test continued to ebb and flow on the second day yesterday.
The force was with West Indies when Bravo's brilliance that extended for 24 successive overs, broken only by the two intervals, accounted for the wickets of Jacques Kallis, one of the game's most immovable objects, Hashim Amla and AB de Villiers.
He left South Africa gasping for breath at 131 for 5 quarter-hour into the final session but a combination of factors provided the home team with the necessary oxygen, the left-hand batsman Ashwell Prince and the always dangerous wicketkeeper Mark Boucher standing firm in an unbroken partnership of 87 over the last two hours and 10 minutes.
They saw South Africa recover to 218 without further loss at close, a mere 25 behind West Indies' modest 243. It is an equation that indicates a close contest all the way through.
A left hamstring strain that hobbled the main strike bowler Fidel Edwards, on the fifth ball of his fifth over, and confined him to the physio's table for the rest of the day, and almost certainly the match, the absence for nearly an hour after tea of the other wicket-taker, Jerome Taylor, for attention to a sore knee and Bravo's inevitable exhaustion put the pressure on the third fast bowler, Daren Powell, and the legspinner Rawl Lewis to follow up. But the sixth-wicket pair consolidated, slowly at first but with increasing confidence.
It was a disappointing anti-climax after Bravo's performance for which his surname was fitting acclaim. With the attack a key bowler short and operating into a stiff south-westerly wind in bright sunshine, the dynamic allrounder summoned the energy to keep going from the same end for three hours (broken into segments of 3-2-2-0 before lunch, 15-5-29-2 in the second session and 6-1-15-1 after tea) and the skill to dispatch the cream of South Africa's batting.
Once the last two remaining West Indies wickets were brushed aside in the morning by Andre Nel, leaving Shivnarine Chanderpaul 65 and once more unbeaten, Taylor presented another encouraging start by removing both openers on either side of lunch.
Neil McKenzie, in his first Test in nearly four years, played securely for 23 in an unfamiliar position before his forward-defensive push diverted a catch low to first slip. The captain Graeme Smith followed quarter-hour after lunch in familiar fashion, edging a flat-footed stroke through to the tumbling Denesh Ramdin.
By then, Bravo was posing questions with his consistency and movement. Almost every delivery seemed likely to take a wicket before three in the space of five overs did. Amla survived only through luck, repeatedly sending the ball between the two and, eventually, three gullies that Chris Gayle posted.
Kallis' bat, as always, seemed as broad as the pitch itself but he was the first of Bravo's victims, defeated by a wicked legcutter that bounced more than anticipated to take the edge through to Ramdin. West Indian joy as he trudged back to the pavilion after an hour and 20 minutes of confident strokeplay was understandable. For all his first innings duck in the first Test, not many teams have removed Kallis as cheaply as 36 in recent times.
Bravo ended Amla's uncertainty in his next over, changing his line from just outside off stump to middle and claiming a plain lbw decision as he aimed across the line.
Bravo, with Marlon Samuels' quick offspin in support, kept Prince and de Villiers scoreless for 25 balls before de Villiers eked out a couple off Bravo to go to tea with South Africa 125 for 4.
The two hours between the intervals yielded 73 hard-fought runs off 29 overs. Immediately afterwards, Bravo struck again with another ideal legcutter that de Villiers touched through to Ramdin.
It was a reflection of bowling lavishly praised afterwards by South Africa coach Mickey Arthur. "We've been saying that this is the most patient and disciplined bowling we've come across and that's a great compliment to West Indies," he said. "As a unit, they've bowled fantastically well. They've bowled with a lot of patience. We can learn from them."
These are words that are music to West Indian ears. They have not been applicable to West Indies teams for years.
Bravo kept going for another five overs after dislodging de Villiers and, with Taylor, kept Boucher scoreless for his first 25 balls. But the bowling unit was diminished by the absence of Edwards and then, if temporarily, of Taylor and the effort began to flag when Bravo was rested.
Prince and Boucher applied due care and attention in building their partnership but, by the final three-quarters of an hour and off the five overs of the second new ball, began to score more freely, finding the boundary eight times on the sluggish outfield.
With such a tight contest developing, the early exchanges when play resumes this morning are likely to determine the course of the match. West Indies will not want to concede a lead of more than 50 on a pitch still basically in good condition and unlikely to deteriorate enough for a winning target of around 250 to be a genuine challenge.