England's Alastair Cook steadies ship as debutants crack under pressure
England went for novelty to save their summer at the Oval but by the end of the first day were back in a familiar position clinging on around Alastair Cook.
As the South African attack took on the England top-order, Cook was the only man to put up serious resistance.
He dug in to reach an unbeaten 82 at close, an invaluable innings in these circumstances.
Without it, England would have been in a far worse place than 171 for four at stumps, and could have been staring down the barrel of going behind in the series.
After humiliating themselves at Trent Bridge, the challenge here was for the England batsmen to hold off the South African attack and not crumble at the first sign of pressure.
They gave three debuts, with two of them, Tom Westley and Dawid Malan, in the top five.
Westley admitted his England debut could have gone better.
"It was enjoyable," he said. "You dream about, as a boy, wanting to play for England.
"It's a bit mixed emotions because I felt like I started quite nicely but then very disappointing to get a start and then get out just after lunch."
With England winning the toss and batting on a quick pitch, they had ideas about taking the game to South Africa. It did not work out like that. Under general murk, rain intervened to force an early lunch, a mid-afternoon break and an 80-minute tea. And even then there were only 59 overs bowled.
More important than any of that, though, was the South African attack. With Kagiso Rabada back in the team their four seamers bowled with a relentless focus, getting a grip on the game straight after lunch and never letting England get back in.
Cook did what he does best all day. He was beaten by Morne Morkel a few times but gave no real chances and set himself up for his first century since returning. He still stands alone as the only English batsman keen to occupy the crease.