London: South Africa vice-captain Ashwell Prince apologised to his team-mates despite a gutsy century in his maiden Test innings against England and on his first visit to Lord's here Saturday.
Sadly for Prince, his 101 couldn't prevent England bowling out South Africa for 247 and enforcing the follow-on after the home side had piled up an imposing 593 for eight declared in the first of this four-Test series.
Left-arm spinner Monty Panesar did the bulk of the damage with four for 74 and South Africa, at stumps on the third day, were 13 without loss - still needing a further 333 runs to make England bat again.
The Proteas were in a parlous position when Prince came in at 47 for three but the 31-year-old left-hander fought hard, and played some fine shots too, in a near five-hour innings featuring one six and 13 fours.
Prince, whose wife and baby son were among the crowd, was hard on himself for being dismissed shortly before the close.
"I thought I let the team down, getting out just a few overs before the end of the day's play," he said.
"The last thing I wanted was to have the captain and Neil McKenzie go out again tonight and face a few overs.
He added: "It's a proud moment for me - but having said that, it would have meant a lot more if it was more meaningful for the team."
Prince, often regarded as a blocker, showed intelligent judgment while making his eighth hundred in his 42nd Test.
"People call me 'obdurate' but I just played the ball," he explained. "I try to do that every time. If it's a good ball, respect it, and if it's there to hit, hit it."
Prince, whose Test career began controversially in 2001/02 after he was helped into the national side by a racial quota system, although he top-scored on debut with 49 against the all-conquering Australians, added: "When I was a youngster I used to come out and try to play every shot in the book.
"But I've been left out of the Test side and went into the wilderness for a bit. I used to make a lot of fifties and not make the big scores.
"I've been playing first-class cricket since the age of 18 and over the years you learn and try to improve."
Facing Panesar, who made good use of the rough on offer, was a particular challenge for Prince.
"It's always going to be an issue for left-handers facing spin bowlers in the rough and you have to learn a technique and trust it," Prince said.
"Monty bowled very well, he got some nice turn and bounce. I'm sure he's going to be featuring a lot more in the series."
An admiring Panesar said of Prince: "He batted well. Obviously there was a bit of rough there, but he managed to counter-act that well."
Prince, whose experience before this tour of English conditions was limited to an Under-19 trip and a couple of seasons with northern club side Morecambe, insisted South Africa could turn things around after three tough days.
"I'm sure as the series goes on our guys will learn, and hopefully rather quickly, which are the lengths to hit.
"It's not just about the pace and we know that."
And Prince, whose name will now become part of the fabric of Lord's after his century earned him a place on the dressing room honours' board, said the Proteas batsmen could save this game too, citing captain Graeme Smith's 259 against England here five years ago as inspiration.
"We've got guys in our team who can bat for a very long time and have done in the past. Our captain has done it before at Lord's. We have confidence in our ability."