Alastair Cook emerged as England's mainstay batsman as they began to sense an opportunity for a first-innings lead over South Africa by lunch on day three at Kingsmead.
At a venue where many assumed the deeds of Cook and others may be destined to be overshadowed by an appropriate major innings from either of the South Africa-born pair Kevin Pietersen (31) or Jonathan Trott (18), it was instead the England opener who returned to form.
Cook (75no) ground his way to only his second half-century in 12 Test innings, from 136 balls, in England's 190 for three in reply to 343.
Pietersen and Trott, meanwhile, were the only batsmen to lose their wickets during the morning as England jockeyed for an advantage under cloudless skies in the second Test.
Trott, under the microscope for his habitually time-consuming fidgets before facing up, did not delay his hosts long this time. He went, in fact, to the seventh ball of the day - and Morne Morkel's third - when he found himself slightly turned around pushing forward to a straight ball and edging behind to be well-caught by Mark Boucher.
The scene was therefore set early for Pietersen, in his first Test innings at what was once his home ground.
It took England's Pietermaritzburg-born batsman nine balls to register his first runs. But when he did so, it was in trademark Pietersen style - a drive for four off Morkel, steered expertly wide of mid-on.
He had already been dropped by Jacques Kallis at slip off Paul Harris, before missing an attempted sweep at the left-arm spinner to go lbw.
Cook's struggle to establish himself took him to near runless extremes in the first hour, before the introduction of Paul Harris appeared to give him some breathing space.
The left-hander successfully queried Amiesh Saheba's decision to give him caught out at short-leg for 64 off JP Duminy. Whether the Delivery Review System evidence conclusively proved the umpire wrong - as, strictly, it must - was a moot point, but it showed enough to know Cook would have been most unfortunate had his appeal failed.