For the past decade, West Indies cricket has been in a perpetual state of crisis, but it is fair to say that they have rarely looked as downtrodden as they did in the build-up to this match. And yet, by the close of the first day at Bourda, their two remaining senior batsmen, Wavell Hinds and Shivnarine Chanderpaul, had compiled a wonderful unbeaten fourth-wicket stand of 241, to make a mockery of the pre-match predictions that West Indies, minus their seven Cable & Wireless-contracted players, would be unable even to stand their ground.
An end to the sponsorship row may be in sight, but the impending return of the likes of Ramnaresh Sarwan and Chris Gayle was never going to happen in time for this first Test. And so, when a skeleton West Indies team had slumped to 24 for 2 after six overs, with Andre Nel steaming in for both wickets, the omens were pretty depressing, and the crowds at Georgetown even more so. South Africa, who had just completed a miserably one-sided series against Zimbabwe, must have wondered if there was any resistance in the pipeline.
By the close of an extraordinary day, however, Graeme Smith and his toiling team knew they were in a struggle. Though the man of the day was indubitably Hinds, who closed on a career-best 188 not out, the final word went to the man of few words, Chanderpaul, who was making his captaincy debut in front of his hometown fans. As the shadows lengthened, Chanderpaul first refused an offer to leave the field for bad light, and then - gloriously - brought up his 12th Test century with a steer for four off Charl Langeveldt's last ball of the day.
Chanderpaul's quiet commitment to the West Indian cause was yet more proof that the patient still has a pulse, but Hinds's performance was even more extraordinary. As vice-president of the West Indies Players Association, he has been deeply embroiled in the off-field events, and last week he reportedly came close to withdrawing from the team out of solidarity.
But he'll be glad now to have stuck to his guns. Had Herschelle Gibbs held onto a sharp chance in the gully when Hinds had made 13, West Indies would have slipped to 24 for 3 and the game could have taken on a very different complexion. But on a slow, low Bourda wicket, his flamboyant approach began to pay dividends, as he peppered the off-side boundary with a succession of flashy drives, often holding the pose in his followthrough, just to give the snappers some extra time to focus. It was far from being a poseur's performance, however, and with 30 fours and two sixes from 230 balls, he was on the verge of one of the fastest double-centuries of all time.
At the drinks break in the final session, Smith had pointed to the scoreboard and read the riot act to his fielders, but to no avail. Hinds used his height and power in precisely the manner that the absent Gayle would have adopted. He brought up his hundred with a furious flurry of runs - first belting Nicky Boje out of the attack with 21 runs in two overs, before clobbering Smith's offspinners over mid-on for a one-bounce four. Boje was not recalled until late in the final session, whereupon an edge from Chanderpaul flew unchallenged to the boundary between the keeper and slip.
If that moment summed up South Africa's day, then so too did the performance of Jacques Kallis, who had helped himself to an obscene wickets tally in the two-Test mismatch against Zimbabwe. Here, he was far more reluctant to turn his arm over, and was slapped for 66 runs in eight wicketless, maidenless overs. Hard though Nel and Makhaya Ntini persevered, it was apparent just how badly South Africa miss the services of Shaun Pollock, their one true class act in the bowling department.
If Hinds and Chanderpaul were the stand-out performers, then the unsung hero of the day was West Indies' debutant batsman, Donovan Pagon. Coming into this match, Pagon's career statistics were nothing much to write home about - 25 matches in a three-year career, 1201 runs at 31.60, with a top score of 110. But not even Sarwan, the man into whose shoes he was being asked to step, could have done more to arrest West Indies' top-order slump.
Standing tall and still at the crease, with a sound awareness of his off stump and a temperament to match, Pagon punched his first ball into a gap on the off side, and followed up with six measured fours, the pick of them a sweetly timed on-drive as Andrew Hall entered the attack. It was only after the lunch break that his nerves began to take hold, and when Nel returned to the attack, Pagon's first false stroke was also his last, as he chipped a nothing shot to Jacques Kallis at silly mid-off.
Nevertheless, Pagon had made his mark, and as news of West Indies' progress spread through the city, the stands began to sway with ecstasy once again as Chanderpaul and Hinds informed South Africa in no uncertain terms that they do, after all, have a fight on their hands.
Smith c Boucher b Nel 11 (24 for 1) Regulation edge, pouched one-handed in front of first slip.
Ganga c Boucher b Nel 0 (24 for 2) Pushed at a wide one, simple catch at knee-height.
Pagon c Kallis b Nel 35 (106 for 3) Early on a defensive push, skewed to silly mid-off.