Gary Kirsten scored a record 10th Test century at Kingsmead on Wednesday to save his place in the team and set South Africa on the way to safety in the third cricket Test against England.
After battling to score meaningful runs since the tour to New Zealand in March, yesterday's innings was believed to be Kirsten's final chance to save himself from the selectors' axe. He not only ensured an extended stay in the team, but also gave South Africa a real chance of securing a draw and wrote himself into the record books.
Kirsten's 10th Test century, his third against England, means he is now South Africa's most prolific century-maker, ahead of Dudley Nourse and Daryll Cullinan on nine.
"I was very thrilled with the innings for a number of reasons," Kirsten said after receiving treatment for cramping and dehydration. "It's always been a target of mine to get 10 Test hundreds, but to be able to achieve the personal target and at the same time contribute to the team effort when we were in trouble was great.
"I fully realise that the match is not over and I have to bat on, but I'm in the right frame of mind to carry on where I left off," Kirsten, who recently married former Pietermaritzburg resident Debbie Cassidy, said.
With the national selectors under fire, Kirsten was set to be dropped if he failed to make runs yesterday, but as his team-mate and successor as vice-captain, Shaun Pollock, said: "he answered in the best way possible".
"I have been struggling with my form but everything seemed to come right with that innings," Kirsten said. "On that true pitch, with little variable bounce, you could concentrate on every ball and play it as it came."
Pollock said the team had gained confidence from Kirsten's epic effort, the match's second century and innings of more than eight hours duration, after their shocking first-innings display which led to them following on.
"We're going to keep a positive outlook and we can certainly take a lot of positives and confidence from today," Pollock said last night. "We believe we've turned the match around."
England assistant coach Bob Cottam said their bowlers would be recovering from a long, hot day in their hotel swimming pool. "The lads are very tired, they put a lot in, but there are no niggles. It was a long, hard day's work, but that's Test cricket."
Going into the match's final day, South Africa have six wickets standing and a lead of just 41 over England.