Matt Prior's "sick enjoyment" served England especially well as he resisted Dale Steyn in full flow to help prevent a more damaging home collapse on day two of the first Investec Test.
Prior came to the crease on Friday morning after Steyn had shifted England centurion Alastair Cook and then Ravi Bopara in the space of two overs. England had stumbled from an overnight 267 for three to 272 for five at the Kia Oval, and would soon lose Ian Bell and Tim Bresnan too.
However, Prior (60) scored his 20th Test half-century - helping England muster 385 all out, before South Africa replied with 86 for one - and said of his battle with Steyn: "He's a world-class performer, we know that. He's not number one in the world for no reason. But it's a great challenge. You want to challenge yourself against the best in the world."
He added: "When it was going around this morning, those are the times when you have to look at it and say 'Right, I've got to thrive on this, on this pressure and see if I can get through it'. So in a sick kind of way, it's quite enjoyable really."
After Cook's assured accumulation on a slow pitch on day one, Steyn changed the game quickly, and Prior said: "It certainly did a little bit more this morning. The conditions helped, and we were expecting South Africa to come hard - which they did. We lost a couple of early wickets, and had to steady the ship again."
Prior and his Test table-topping colleagues knew all along they were never going to seamlessly dominate such strong opponents this summer.
"That's what we're going to expect the whole series," he said. "It's not just going to go our way - we know that. But I think it's very easy to think 'Oh, this was South Africa's day and we're not now in a good position'. Actually, it's a very attritional wicket - quite hard to score runs quickly."
South Africa seamer Morne Morkel eventually got Prior, and then last man James Anderson, to finish with four for 72.
However, he too admitted it was Steyn who altered the contest, saying: "I think it was needed. They were sitting pretty well overnight and we knew that the first hour this morning was key for us - to get some early wickets.
"I think all credit must go to Vernon (Philander) and Dale - the intensity that they bowled with was fantastic. Dale's number one in the world, and he is going to deliver something special like that at any time. As a bowling unit, and for me personally as well, it fires me up to follow."