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Chris Morris thought he had blown his big chance before his big-hitting ambush at the Wanderers stole a match Eoin Morgan admitted England should have won.
England dropped three catches, by far the most significant when Adil Rashid failed to hold a routine one off Reece Topley at mid-off that would have dismissed Morris for 14 and left South Africa 211 for nine in pursuit of 262.
Instead, Morris (62) survived and went on the rampage in front of a raucous home crowd at the Bullring to take his team to the brink of victory - before number 11 Imran Tahir strode out, with scores level, to finish the job and level the one-day international series.
England must therefore ready themselves, after a flight south on Saturday, to try to close out the series from 2-2 in the final match at Newlands 24 hours later - having led 2-0 only four days ago.
Number eight Morris needed fortune on his side, and it came with Rashid's drop as England failed to defend a total achieved on the back of a second successive century from Joe Root (109) and despite a middle-order collapse of five for 21.
Recalling Rasid's drop, Morris said: "When it went up, the first thing I thought was 'idiot!'.
"The length was there for me to cut ... but my mind-set was mid-off was up - so I thought if I just get half a piece of wood on it, then it's going to go.
"I did get half a piece of wood on it, and it went straight up.
"We've got a saying in afrikaans ... 'my heart fell through my bum' ..."
It did not stay there for long, though, because Morris made England pay with a maiden ODI 50 and a display of sustained hitting for four sixes and three fours from 38 balls in a stand of 52 - to which Kyle Abbott contributed just an unbeaten three.
"I was very happy when he did drop it," Morris added.
"No one drops a catch on purpose, but fortunately it was my turn tonight to be on the receiving end of one.
"As a cricketer, you live for those pressure situations ... I kind of enjoy being put under pressure, because that's where you get tested as a character and a cricketer.
"It shows you where you stand as a cricketer, if you can handle the pressure or not."
England captain Morgan had to contemplate the opposite.
"Yes, we should have won game - but ultimately we can still win the series," he said.
"The game was there for the taking, and I have no idea why the opportunities created did not bring the wickets.
"But again, this is a young side - and they will be better for playing in a nail-biting game against South Africa.
"The bowlers bowled out of their skin, and the most disappointing thing is that we had chances.
"It was an amazing game of cricket. You could feel the tension in the air."
A sell-out crowd at one of sport's most intimidating venues doubtless played its part.
"It reminded me of playing IPL cricket in the nature of the noise and the fact every ball counted," added Morgan.
"It was a privilege to play in it."
He cannot afford to stay downcast about the cruel outcome.
"The positives we can take out of this game is that we we fell about 30 runs short, but we (still) put a very good experienced side under a lot of pressure," he said.
"We created chances to win the game.
"Yes, we can sit back and say we probably should have won the game.
"But ultimately, we were under the pump to create chances, and the improvement from the last game to this was hugely significant."