England needed something remarkable to prevent a three-day defeat in Durban, but the opening stand of 273 between Andrew Strauss and Marcus Trescothick easily surpassed expectations.
England's recovery says everything about the supreme confidence that exists within the dressing room
It was England's highest opening partnership for 40 years, and the second highest ever in the second innings.
They were parted with only 14 overs remaining in the day - had they survived, it would have been the first time for 80 years that England had batted throughout an entire day of Test cricket without losing a wicket.
South Africans arrived at Kingsmead expecting their team to level the series.
But the pitch had become benign and Trescothick and Strauss began merely with survival in mind.
They batted patiently, blunting the South African bowling, before attacking the spinner, Nicky Boje.
In one period of six overs, they scored 56 runs and when the pair returned to the pavilion for lunch, having scored 107 runs to leave England only 56 behind, their many supporters were on their feet.
Trescothick was the first to reach his century, which came from 199 balls and, in the following over, Strauss swept Boje to register his second hundred of the series from five fewer deliveries.
At tea, the lead was 30, but the second new ball was only 10 overs away.
After the break, the openers went on the rampage and, not surprisingly, Graeme Smith took the new ball as soon as it became available.
Trescothick's dismissal was a huge relief for Graeme Smith
It was always going to be a key period in the innings and, in the sixth over, Trescothick edged Pollock to AB de Villiers for 132.
In the following over, Strauss was put down at third slip and Mark Butcher hung on nervously until the umpires offered the batsmen the light.
England's recovery, and particularly the manner in which they batted, says everything about the supreme confidence that exists within the dressing room.
This might well have spilled over into over confidence, even arrogance, in their first innings when they batted so poorly.
But of all the teams currently in world cricket, one feels that only Australia could have produced a performance quite like this.
If they can add another 200 runs on the fourth day, they might well complete one of the most astonishing turn-rounds in test history.