Greame Smith could have called it a day early on the fifth and final day in West Yorkshire, safe in the knowledge that his side’s 1-0 advantage would be preserved going into the final Test at Lord’s.
However, with the sun finally deciding to beat down on Headingley, the Proteas skipper declared, leaving England a target of 253 from 39 overs, a target so tantalisingly close it saw Smith’s opposite number Andrew Strauss shuffle his order and send in go-to man Kevin Pietersen as opener.
Three fours in one Morne Morkel over suggested the most dramatic of finishes could be upon us, but South Africa struck back to dismiss Pietersen and with it England’s slim hopes of victory.
The only other player perhaps capable of scoring so quickly was wicket-keeper Matt Prior, shown by his promotion up to five. However, by the time he was at the crease 154 was still needed off 20 overs.
That is a tough challenge in one-day cricket, where they have limited overs for bowlers, power-plays and fielding restrictions. With none of those privileges, England were slowly forced back into their shell.
They fell well and truly into game-saving mode when Prior was dismissed, with only new-boy James Taylor left in the pavilion before the tail. Jonathan Trott and Ian Bell sensibly drew the sting from the game, before Smith called it a day with six overs remaining.
Both sides should be applauded for trying to force a result and although it did still end in a draw, both teams will try and claim some moral victories heading into next week’s final Test.
For England their performance was a definite improvement on their miserable effort at the Oval, where they slumped to an innings defeat and only took two South African wickets.
But with the tourists only needing a draw to secure the series and number one spot in the world rankings, Strauss and co will have to attack from the off and hope for dry weather if they are to have a chance of maintaining their grip at the top of the cricketing tree.