Last man Graham Onions played out a tense final over from Makhaya Ntini as England escaped with a draw on the fifth and final day of the first Test against South Africa at SuperSport Park on Sunday.
The match seemed to be heading for a routine draw when Jonathan Trott and Kevin Pietersen batted together for more than three hours but South African new cap Friedel de Wet produced an inspired spell with the second new ball to leave England hanging on.
“The emotion in our dressing room is excitement about getting so close and bowling so well,” said South African captain Graeme Smith.
“We finished the match on top and played the better cricket throughout the Test match. We will go into (the second Test in) Durban with a lot of confidence.”
De Wet dismissed Trott in the second over with the new ball and had a spell of three for three in five overs. Five wickets fell in the final 15 overs but Paul Collingwood and Onions survived the last 20 balls .
It was a tense finish reminiscent of the first Ashes Test against Australia in Cardiff earlier this year when England were also nine down at the end.
But England captain Andrew Strauss said the circumstances were different.
“In Cardiff, for the majority of the day, we were behind the eight ball. For the majority of today we were heading for a draw. It would have been very disappointing if we had lost.”
England, set 364 to win, finished on 228 for nine.
Trott, who came to the wicket after the dismissal of nightwatchman James Anderson in the third over of the day, defied the South African bowlers for 317 minutes and faced 212 balls in making 69.
Pietersen was more aggressive in making 81 off 143 deliveries as the pair put on 145 for the fourth wicket.
The partnership was only broken two overs after tea when Pietersen pushed the ball into the covers and set off for a suicidal run. Trott did not respond and bowler De Wet had plenty of time to pick up the ball and trot to the batsman’s end to break the wicket.
Trott batted through until the second new ball, taken when just over an hour’s play remained.
Until then, remarkably few deliveries had behaved unusually off the pitch, in contrast to the previous two days.
But De Wet made the hard new ball fly off a length and it ripped into Trott’s right glove and deflected to third slip where AB de Villiers made a diving catch.
De Wet had Ian Bell caught behind four overs later and England were six down with a maximum of 10.4 overs remaining.
Matt Prior also fell to a catch behind off De Wet before Stuart Broad was caught behind off left-arm spinner Paul Harris and Graeme Swann was leg before to Morne Morkel.
South African hopes were raised early in the day when Anderson gloved De Wet down the legside to wicketkeeper Mark Boucher.
Alastair Cook defended resolutely for 79 minutes and 56 balls, scoring 12 runs, before he too was caught off a glove, when a ball from left-arm spinner Paul Harris went to Graeme Smith at leg gully off his glove and pad.
But Trott and Pietersen dug in on a pitch which did not provide as much unpredictable bounce as it had on the previous two days.
Only one delivery truly misbehaved before the dramatic closing stages, a ball from De Wet which shot through low and trapped Pietersen, on 39, plumb in front of his stumps.
But umpire Steve Davis no-balled De Wet for overstepping.