England lost Ian Bell early and James Taylor to a calamitous run-out but still dared to believe in their mission improbable at Lord's to share the Investec Test series with South Africa and preserve their world number one status in the process.
South Africa's famed pace attack duly made life uncomfortable for Jonathan Trott, 57 not out, and Bell as Vernon Philander in particular continued to find conspicuous sideways movement off the pitch. Bell succumbed when Philander, three for 14, also responsible for both wickets on Sunday night, had him edging to a juggling Graeme Smith at first slip.
And despite an unbroken half-century stand between Trott and Jonny Bairstow, at lunch England were still a vulnerable 120 for four in pursuit of a team and ground record 346 to win.
Trott had a charmed life with a series of early plays and misses against Philander and Morne Morkel. But it was clear from the outset, after his and Bell's caution on Sunday once both England openers had gone for single-figure scores, that the number three had resolved to play some shots too.
He registered England's first boundary, an edge high over the slips off Philander, from the first ball of the 17th over. Trott was joined by Taylor, who came through the remainder of Philander's spell unscathed only to be run-out when Trott clipped Dale Steyn to wide long-on and then sent his partner back for an attempted fourth run.
The breakdown in communication left Taylor with no chance to retrieve his ground as the ball was ferried in from the deep.
Had Jacques Rudolph clung on to a half-chance, high to his right at third slip off Jacques Kallis, Trott would have gone for 33 and England would have been 57 for five.
Instead, Bairstow - after his first-innings 95 - again injected youthful intent as he and Trott took England to lunch.
They bagged some boundaries too, Bairstow under way with a rush of four from eight deliveries off Steyn and then taking two from the first two balls he received at the start of Imran Tahir's spell - clubbing the leg-spinner down the ground and then sweeping him fine.
Trott had time just before lunch to complete his near three-hour 50 when he nudged Tahir into the off-side for a scampered two to go with his six fours.