Paul Collingwood overcame what he admitted was huge pressure as he and Kevin Pietersen gave England a chance of a come-from-behind victory on the third day of the third Test against South Africa at Edgbaston on Friday.
England were 297 for six at the close, an overall lead of 213, with Collingwood capping a return to form in glorious fashion by reaching his sixth Test century with a six off left-arm spinner Paul Harris.
He finished the day on 101 not out. Pietersen made 94 before falling when he tried to hit a six off Harris.
"There was lots of pressure," said Collingwood, who was in danger of being dropped after a summer of poor performances. "It's not pressure so much from the outside as knowing that you have to contribute or you are letting the team down.
"Today was very special, everything went my way and it's a day I won't forget. It's been tough over the past couple of months."
Collingwood said there was still a big job to do with South Africa able to call on a new ball at the start of play Saturday.
With the pitch still playing well, Collingwood said he would like England to get 280 to 300 ahead.
Collingwood paid tribute to England captain Michael Vaughan. "He said to me, just before I went out to bat 'Don't be reckless, but be aggressive'. I quite enjoyed having my freedom from the skipper. That's the way I play my best cricket."
South African coach Mickey Arthur said he was very, very disappointed with his team's performance. "It simply wasn't good enough. We've got that out of the way in the dressing room. We've got a gift tomorrow morning and that's the second new ball.
"We're going to have really make it work fast for us," Arthur said: "The game's on a knife edge. We had an opportunity today which we didn't take. We forgot about everything we've spoken about today.
"But we've got that second opportunity with the new ball. The wicket's flat, there wasn't a huge amount of spin on offer and it didn't swing much today when the sun was out.
"We believe we can chase down most totals on that but it's going to be difficult."
Pietersen and Collingwood brought England back into the game in thrilling style with a fifth wicket stand of 115 off 138 balls but when Andrew Flintoff was out four balls after Pietersen it seemed South Africa were on the way to victory.
But Collingwood and Tim Ambrose added an unbeaten 76 against lacklustre bowling to raise English hopes of a win which would level the series with one match to play.
After a watchful start, Pietersen was looking in total command when he twice in the space of three balls reverse-pulled Harris for boundaries.
At that stage the South African bowlers were looking ineffectual in the best batting conditions of the match, with the sun shining and the ball not deviating through the air or off an easy-paced pitch.
But Pietersen was out to the first ball of Harris' next over when he danced down the pitch. He mistimed the ball and was caught by AB de Villiers three-quarters of the way to the long-on boundary.
Pietersen batted for 186 minutes, faced 136 balls and hit 13 fours. Four balls later Flintoff was caught off bat and pad at short leg off Harris and South Africa were on top again.
Collingwood, who had reached his half-century off 61 balls, batted cautiously for a period but with Ambrose proving a solid partner he lifted the tempo towards the end of the day to notch his century off 133 deliveries with 14 fours to add to the six which brought a capacity crowd to their feet.