After reeling at 17-2, home team post 357-5 as middle-order batsman scores 184 not out at stumps on Day 1 at Lord's.
Joe Root scores hundred to rescue England in first knock as Test captain
Joe Root made the most of his good fortune and substantial skill, too, as he marked his first day as Test captain with a century England badly needed against South Africa at Lord's.
Root (184 not out) might easily have fallen to Kagiso Rabada on five or 16 on his way to and well beyond a 150-ball century which contained 15 fours and aided his team's recovery after Vernon Philander had taken three early wickets.
South Africa had England 17-2, and then 76-4. But the tourists simply did not help themselves, and Root very much did in century stands for the fifth and sixth wickets with Ben Stokes (56) and Moeen Ali (61 not out) in a stumps total of 357 for five in this first Test.
Root, who won the toss on a glorious day, responded to early travails to complete his 12th century in his 54th Test.
He found himself in the middle much sooner than he doubtless hoped as Philander nipped out both openers cheaply, but went on to become the sixth England captain in Test history to make a hundred in his first innings in charge.
Philander struck in his second and third overs as Root's captaincy predecessor Alastair Cook and then Keaton Jennings succumbed, as did Jonny Bairstow after Gary Ballance fell to Morne Morkel.
On a pitch tinged with green and providing good carry, Cook went caught-behind when Philander got one to run down the slope for an outside edge as England's all-time record runscorer pushed out slightly away from his body on the back foot.
The circumstances of England's second early departure were regrettable.
Umpire Sundaram Ravi took his time before giving Jennings out lbw pushing forward.
The opener consulted Ballance at the non-striker's end, but neither opted for a review which would have reprieved Jennings both on the basis that the ball pitched outside leg-stump and was not going on to hit it either.
Root's first slice of luck against South Africa's first-change fast bowler came when he failed to control a hook only to see the ball sail just over substitute fielder Aiden Markram at long-leg yet still bounce inside the rope.
Morkel kept testing Ballance with a full length and got one in the right place from round the wicket to win another lbw verdict from umpire Ravi, England compounding their earlier blunder on DRS by this time opting for a review which merely confirmed the ball would have thudded into leg-stump.
Root therefore had a second Yorkshire ally for company, and soon his second escape off Rabada, too - spearing a drive on the up straight through JP Duminy's hands above his head at gully.
But 10 minutes before lunch, Philander struck in his second spell when he pinned Bairstow lbw on the back foot.
England reached much calmer waters in a wicketless afternoon, during which Stokes had a let-off, too.
He was beaten for pace on 44 when Morkel jagged one into him to lift the leg-bail via an inside-edge but survived because of a big overstep for no-ball - and South Africa were punished doubly when the ball sped away for four streaky byes.
Confusion on the scoreboard saw Stokes credited initially with the runs and consequently going on to celebrate his half-century early. He then spent a further six balls on 49 before reaching his 50 again from 95, having hit seven fours and a straight six off Keshav Maharaj.
Stokes did not last long into the third session, caught-behind trying to pull Rabada - and Moeen was therefore in situ for the moment Root reached three figures with a neat sweep for three off Maharaj.
His celebrations before a standing ovation around the ground included a wave to the pavilion - housing dad Matt among four generations of the Root family - and soon enough there was a saunter up the pitch at the start of Maharaj's next over to mark the achievement in style with a first six of his innings over long-off.
Moeen proved an able associate to exploit a tiring attack as conditions began to favour batting significantly, and he took advantage with a fluent 81-ball 50.
Still South Africa had another opportunity for a share of the overall spoils only for Root's apparent loss of concentration on 149 against Maharaj, up the pitch to one that turned sharply and stumped by yards, to be ruled irrelevant when a check on the front foot showed a second costly overstep.