Nottingham: Mark Butcher and Nasser Hussain compiled stylish centuries as England fought back from a poor start to reach 296 for three at close on the first day of the third Test against South Africa on Thursday.
Butcher and Hussain came together with the hosts in trouble at 29 for two, but their fluent third-wicket partnership of 189 laid the foundation for a substantial total.
Butcher fell early in the final session for 106 but Hussain went on to complete his 13th Test century, a little over two weeks after quitting as captain of the team.
He raised his arms in triumph at getting to three figures but retained his concentration sufficiently to remain unbeaten on 108 at the close, with debutant Ed Smith on 40 after an unbroken fourth-wicket stand of 78.
ďIím really pleased for the team because we took a bashing after Lordís and rightly so. So it was nice to come out and show people that we can actually play this game,Ē Butcher later said.
ďItís great too for Nasser. He really wears his heart on his sleeve and everyone saw today how much that century meant to him. He was a fantastic captain and he also took a battering personally.Ē
It was a position of prosperity for England that few would have imagined after South Africa dismissed openers Michael Vaughan and Marcus Trescothick in the first hour of the match to continue their domination of the series.
Vaughan, who won the toss, was first to go with the total on seven when he edged a lifting delivery from Shaun Pollock low to Herschelle Gibbs at third slip for one.
Trescothick hit five crisp boundaries on the way to 24 but was again unable to capitalise on a solid start.
The tall left-hander had just hit Andrew Hall straight for four when his indecisive push at the combative allrounder presented wicketkeeper Mark Boucher with a simple catch.
Hussain played and missed several times, leaving the South African seamers to maintain a probing off-stump line.
Butcher also struggled initially, surviving a big lbw shout off Pollock.
But the pair soon found their timing and Hussainís dismissive pull off Makhaya Ntini sent England into lunch on 85 for two.
Butcher played shots all round the wicket, the left-hander stroking several sumptuous boundaries through the off side before reaching his eighth Test century with his 21st four.
Even Graeme Smith showed signs of fatigue, the South Africa captain diving over the ball as he tried to stop another Butcher stroke from reaching the extra cover boundary.
England took tea on 212 for two but Butcher fell soon after the interval when he nicked a short ball from Ntini through to Boucher.
Ed Smith settled quickly into Test cricket, defending solidly and showing his attacking repertoire with crisp pulls and drives.
He and Hussain, whose first Test century for almost a year included 17 fours, survived comfortably to the close as the South African bowlers tired.
Pollock was the most economical, conceding only 41 runs from his 23 overs.
South Africa, 1-0 up in the five-match series, suffered a blow before the match when experienced batsman Gary Kirsten was ruled out with an arm injury.
His place went to Neil McKenzie, but Jacques Kallis returned to the side after missing the first two tests following the death of his father last month.
England handed debuts to Ed Smith and fast bowler James Kirtley, who replaced Anthony McGrath and Darren Gough from the side that lost the second Test at Lordís by an innings and 92 runs.