After dominating seven straight days of Test cricket against Australia, South Africa needed reminding that the game is also about days (and nights) like this. Days when you start well and have some reward but not as much as you deserve, when your chance comes but you let it go, when you need some luck and then you make some.
Pressure was built, then squandered, then regained, then given away and finally transferred through passages of play and moments that made day two in Adelaide come alive.
Kyle Abbott plays so infrequently - nine Tests in three years since debut, only two of them (Hobart and here) consecutively - that he could be excused if consistency wasn't his closest friend. But they proved bosom buddies and with every ball of his opening spell he looked likely to make good on his captain calling time on their innings on the first day.
Faf du Plessis' earlier-than-expected declaration may not have deprived South Africa of many runs - they were nine down after all - but was a signal of intent from a skipper who had already won the series. No breakthroughs were forthcoming under lights but it was a licence for his pacemen to pounce on the second afternoon, when anticipation over Australia's new-look line-up could have led to their undoing.
Abbott took it on himself to feed the anxiety. He made the ball wobble like water in a glass on an airplane tray, when the flight finds itself momentarily traveling through turbulence. It ripples, a stray drop may leap up and plop back down, there could be a tiny wave but unless you're in a really bad spot, nothing actually spills.
Matt Renshaw, with only 12 first-class games to this name, is unlikely to have faced such high-quality late seam movement before. He was beaten, twice, and then forced to play. The edge died on Dean Elgar at second slip but Renshaw was given out. If that ball hadn't got him, another one would have. The same could be said of David Warner, who does not have the patience to put up with someone like Abbott's nagging.
Abbott's figures of 7-3-7-2 were a testament to his ability and his endurance. In the T20 age, spells of longer than five overs in Test cricket are lauded; those of seven overs are considered marathons. Abbott has already run three of them, having delivered a nine-over second spell in Hobart, followed by a seven-over one. He created pressure but South Africa needed to sustain it.
Usman Khawaja and Steven Smith challenged South Africa's attack as their partnership built. Vernon Philander and Kagiso Rabada had not been able to support Abbott as well as they would have wanted to. Tabraiz Shamsi, picked because he was supposed to be difficult to read, had not worked any magic. JP Duminy was given the ball, perhaps to buy time, but he almost proved a trump card.
Duminy offered some flight and Smith went on the drive but only got a thick outside edge. Hashim Amla seemed surprised when the ball came his way and parried it almost over his head, then turned and tried to catch it as he tumbled but fluffed that too.
It was Amla's third drop of the series after he put down Khawaja in the first innings in Perth and Hazlewood in the second. All of them have been with Amla at slip, all of them have required a fairly quick reaction time and all of them have left Amla looking startled. Add to that his contribution with the bat this series - 53 runs in four innings - and his average of 14.46 in South Africa's last four away trips and you can't help but wonder if the "Mighty Hash", as he known at home, is turning meek.
His aggression has come from his verbal exchanges, to the media at the MCG and on Twitter after the Adelaide airport event, and they have seemed out of character for a usually reserved man. Amla appears to be under pressure and dropping Smith would only have added to it.
It took Temba Bavuma's run-out of Warner in Perth to spark South Africa and it was going to take something similar to lift them in Adelaide. It came from an unlikely source, though. Philander does not have Bavuma's athleticism but he didn't need it. A mix-up between Smith and Khawaja gave Philander enough time to get a throw in to Quinton de Kock, who had helped cause some of the confusion.
Smith played the ball to point, called "yes" and begun to run; de Kock, from behind the stumps, also called "yes", presumably to prompt Philander to get the ball in but maybe to put Smith off because Khawaja seemed to have said "no". By the time Smith saw Khawaja wasn't coming and started to run back for his ground, the bails had been dislodged and Khawaja was left to marshal the middle-order debutants. With a habit for implosion, it was up to Australia to stay strong.
Peter Handscomb had scored 41 assured runs before he leaned into a cover-drive off Philander, who had taken the second new ball an over before. He looked like a man who has played 61 first-class games and has an average of over 40. He did not necessarily look like a man who would play that shot again off the next ball. He definitely did not look like a man who would unleash a pull shot the ball after that to bring up a maiden Test fifty and put Australia in the lead.
That trio of boundaries and the situation Australia were in meant that even if they had fallen apart immediately afterwards, they had already produced their best top-order batting performance of the series. So the onus had shifted back on to South Africa to search out the whitewash they said they so desperately wanted.
Enter Abbott. The man who set things up in the beginning, finished off at the end in the same fashion. He seamed one in and found his way through the bat-pad gap Handscomb had been leaving open through his innings. He took out middle stump and transferred the pressure back on Australia.
As night fell, South Africa were just about able to keep it there. Rabada took a wicket, Philander took a wicket and even though the lead crept up, Shamsi found some turn. The series is gone but this game is on.