Nottingham — Was it the reassurance that returned with Faf du Plessis‚ the emotion engendered by the plight of Russell Domingo‚ or the removal from the chain of weak-link JP Duminy?
Whatever it was‚ it earned SA a crushing victory over England in the second Test at Trent Bridge on Monday.
The visitors were home with more than a day to spare‚ winning by 340 runs.
If the weightiness of the scoreline seems familiar it is because England won the first Test by 211 runs inside four days at Lord’s last Sunday.
Du Plessis‚ the cricketer most comfortable with captaincy‚ missed that match: he was at home, marvelling at his and wife Imari’s firstborn.
Domingo‚ an increasingly revered coach in his own dressingroom‚ did not see the end of it: his mother‚ who was seriously injured in a car crash in June‚ had taken a turn for the worse and died in the hours after the last wicket fell.
Duminy‚ as selfless a servant as a team could have‚ played what may be his last Test: seven completed innings without reaching 40‚ never mind 50‚ and only two centuries in his last 16 trips to the crease tipped the selectorial scales against him.
Five days after they were laid low at Lord’s‚ the Proteas rose from that canvas to fight on at Trent Bridge.
Eight days on‚ they delivered the knockout blow by dismissing England — who were set what would have been a record target of 474 — for 133.
The innings that lasted a touch more than three-and-a-half hours and no runs were scored as the last three wickets tumbled off just four deliveries.
The home side resumed with a solitary run on the board‚ and lost their first wicket to the 11th ball of the day when Vernon Philander bowled Keaton Jennings through the gate for three.
Philander struck again to trap Gary Ballance in front for four‚ and England were 55/3 when Chris Morris yorked Joe Root for eight with a fine delivery that swerved past the bat and clipped the base of off-stump.
Morris then claimed the key wicket of Alastair Cook in the fourth over before lunch with a bouncer that reared viciously at the batsman’s head.
Cook took defensive action and the looping chance he gloved was caught one-handed by wicketkeeper Quinton de Kock diving far to his right.
Opener Cook batted for a minute short of two hours and faced 76 balls for his 42.
The trend continued nine balls after lunch when Jonny Bairstow slapped a delivery from Keshav Maharaj into the hands of mid-on to go for 16.
England’s last serious hopes of delaying the inevitable were Ben Stokes and Moeen Ali‚ but they were dismissed six balls apart for 18 and 27.
Ali’s rash sweep off Maharaj was caught at square leg and Philander took a fine‚ low return catch in his follow-through to send Stokes on his way.
Duanne Olivier ended what was for him a low-key match by having Mark Wood and James Anderson caught at gully and behind the wicket with consecutive bouncers.
Philander and Maharaj took three wickets each‚ and Morris claimed 2/7 in six overs.
Former England captain Michael Vaughan slammed the home side’s performance after Stuart Broad, Wood and Anderson all fell on 133.
Vaughan posted on Twitter: "This is absolutely terrible… far too much talent in this team to play like this."
Captain Root offered a more diplomatic assessment, saying: "It has been a tough week. We weren’t good enough with the bat for the whole game. We prepared very well and had two good practice days."
England have delayed selection ahead of the third Test, which starts at the Oval on July 27, and could make changes.
By contrast, SA’s captain Du Plessis was delighted and dedicated the win to absent coach Domingo. "It was for Russell."
Du Plessis added he admired the way his side refused to relinquish their stranglehold once they got on top.
"It was important to get into a position of strength and not lose our momentum," the skipper said.