Joe Root believes his ninth Test hundred could prove to be his best so far if it continues England's record of never losing a Test in which he makes a century.
Six of Root's hundreds have helped to bring an England win and the other two were made in draws. This Test is still on the line, with the world's No?1-ranked Test team f-ighting hard and hoping for -raucous home support at the
Bullring today, but, with Root still at the crease, England can sense a series-winning victory.
"I'm really pleased so far," Root said after the close of play. "Tomorrow is about making a big one, building a partnership and getting some form of a lead." Asked if he thought it the best of his career he replied: "Possibly, but there is a lot of hard work for us to get a result in the game."
Root twice received lengthy treatment on his left calf yesterday, raising fears that England might be about to lose their only world-class middle-order batsman. But he later admitted it was nothing more than cramp. "You lot must think I'm a drama queen," he said.
The pain was no doubt soothed by the adrenalin rush of batting with Ben Stokes as well as the -satisfaction of converting a fifty to a century. Players judge each other not on statistics but on the value of their runs to the team and in Root and Stokes England have two match-winners.
Whenever the pair have built a substantial partnership the team have gone on to win close contests. Last summer they pummelled New Zealand for 161 at Lord's, when England were teetering in the first innings, and they added another 84 against Australia in Cardiff to set England on their way to regaining the Ashes. Here it was 111 runs at a pulsating 7.01 an over. Who needs the Big Bash?
"Ben takes the pressure off you at the other end when he plays that way and that aggressively," Root said. "The slips come out, there are men on the boundary and you can run well between the wickets -because of those gaps available. He releases a lot of pressure off you. Ben is not very talkative in the -middle, which is completely -different to off the field. He is a great craic in the dressing room but when he is out there it is all about concentrating as much as possible. "
Stokes and Root average 4.4 runs an over when they bat together, a rate to match the great -Australian team of 2000s and this counter--attack was reminiscent of them at their best. No wonder Trevor -Bayliss, England's Australian coach, values the pair so highly. Stokes is his talisman, the player he will -defend no matter what, while Root is the world-class batsman he can build around.
The battle between Stokes and Root and South Africa's battery of four giant quicks on a fast pitch was Test cricket at its most thrilling. Taking the fight to England was the burly Hardus Viljoen, who became only the second player to take a wicket with his first ball in Test cricket and crack his first delivery with the bat for four.
"Wow. It is actually still unreal," he said of dismissing Alastair Cook with his first ball. "It felt like a claw ball [stuck in his hand] and the nerves were pumping. I was very lucky to get a wicket first ball. It -settled the nerves. I would have liked to nick him off on the off side but every one counts."
Last year Viljoen nearly joined the exodus of South African cricketers leaving the country to earn a stronger currency elsewhere. He was frustrated at a lack of opportunities at international level but eventually turned down an offer to play state cricket in New Zealand to stay at home.
"I don't want to have second best," he said. "You get brought up in a country so play for that country. I said I will give myself time to represent my country. It came quicker than I thought and I will never ever regret staying here."
James Anderson was taken out of the England attack by the umpires at the end of the South Africa innings following a third warning for running down the pitch.
Anderson had a lengthy discussion with umpire Aleem Dar, with England claiming he never heard the previous warnings.