Pietersen fails to complete rescue operation
Paul Collingwood gave us all a shining example of what makes him one of the most popular members of the England dressing-room when, in what might have been his last test innings, he produced a superb, fighting hundred to keep England in the hunt.
Rather than hide in his shell as in the first innings, he batted purposefully and positively. Boundaries flowed, and his footwork started to return after England faced the real possibility of losing the match today.
Michael Vaughan produced a fluent failure when he drove a low catch to mid off for 17. He will not be dropped, of that I am certain, not least because there is no one to take over especially now that Kevin Pietersen must surely have ruled himself out of the reckoning today.
I'm not going to steal Alec Stewart's thunder, but will merely endorse his criticism of Pietersen's irresponsible stroke that brought about his downfall on 94 just when he and Collingwood were leading England out of trouble. Make no mistake about it, Pietersen was going for the glory of reaching his century with a six.
But, unlike Collingwood later in the day, he chose entirely the wrong ball to do it because it was his first sight of Paul Harris from round the wicket, and the length was also wrong.
What made his shot the more galling was that the South Africans saw it coming, and they set the field accordingly with the long on and long off deliberately placed 15 yards from the boundary edge.
All Harris had to do was let the ball go and Pietersen did the rest - down the pitch he came and, trying to loft him for six, holed out to AB de Villiers at mid on. The South Africans have always maintained that the way to get at Pietersen is to prey on his ego, and they did so again today.
Some will say that Collingwood might have fallen in the same way - but he didn't. Others will say that the earlier batsmen who failed to score runs should carry the can for England's predicament, and that Pietersen should be absolved of blame.
That is a valid argument, but if anyone really does hold that view, please watch Pietersen's furious reaction: he knew he had blown it. Would Jacques Kallis or Ricky Ponting have done the same thing? Of course not. When you get in as a batsman at this level, it is your job to stay in, and Geoff Boycott always maintains that to appreciate a true position in a Test match, you add two wickets to the score.
Had Pietersen done that, surely he would merely have picked off the runs, and continued the rescue work that he and Collingwood had so skilfully embarked upon. In fact, with Andrew Flintoff prodding a catch to short leg four balls later that is exactly how the situation developed with England slipping from 219-4 to 221-6, with a nervous Tim Ambrose walking anxiously to the middle.
A terrific fourth and probably final day awaits, with England needing to muster at least another 50 runs realistically to put pressure on South Africa who will be batting to win the series.