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 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.
But Prior (60) turned defence into attack, as he so often does, on the way to his 20th Test half-century - and therefore helped England muster 385 all out, before South Africa replied with 86 for one.
England's wicketkeeper-batsman explained afterwards that, in bowler-friendly conditions under heavy cloud cover, he relished the opportunity - and team requirement - to see Steyn off.
"He's a world-class performer, we know that. He's not number one in the world for no reason," said Prior.
"But it's a great challenge. You want to challenge yourself against the best in the world.
"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 yesterday, Steyn changed the game quickly.
"It certainly did a little bit more this morning," added Prior.
"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.
"They've only gone at about two an over so far and if we come in tomorrow morning and get two or three early wickets we're back in the ascendancy and a very, very strong position in this Test match.
"That's the way we'll look at it. We've got to put pressure on their batters and hope we can get a cluster (of wickets at some stage)."
Prior believes England's total, although not as substantial as once seemed likely, is a good one.
"We ended up with 385, and I think that's a good score on that wicket," he said.
"Yesterday, we probably would have said 'you want to get 400'. But the way the wicket changed this morning, 350 is almost a par score.
"A lot will depend on that first session tomorrow. We have the bowlers in the dressing room to do the job for us, and I'm sure we'll come out very hard and pick up a few early wickets."
South Africa seamer Morne Morkel eventually got Prior, and then last man James Anderson, to finish with four for 72.
But he admitted it was Steyn who altered the contest.
"I think it was needed," Morkel said.
"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."