Petersen’s career-best 182 lasted 365 balls, and almost nine hours, at Headingley.
But even after Stuart Broad (three for 96) had the opener caught behind, Rod Tucker’s initial not-out verdict overturned on DRS, England had to battle through the tail — and JP Duminy — with the last three wickets adding 66.
Petersen and Jacques Rudolph’s hard-working stand of 59 required plenty of skill, and a little fortune too this morning, against England’s four-man pace attack.
James Anderson and Broad, starting with a ball only seven overs old, gave the sixth-wicket pair very little — and the result was six consecutive maidens to start the day.
There were plays and misses for both batsmen, Rudolph struggling most obviously against the moving ball and with cloud cover prevailing.
Petersen needed his second successful review against a Steve Davis lbw decision, having survived on 119 last night when Steven Finn was the bowler and then this morning before he had added to his overnight 124 — Hawkeye demonstrating that a delivery from Anderson would have passed high and wide of leg-stump.
South Africa had to be watchful — and even after a run-less first half-hour, progress remained slow from a start-of-play 262.
But on a pitch compromising fluent batsmanship, and with overhead conditions favouring the bowlers, every run was precious.
It was an irony lost on few, least of all Graeme Swann surely, that in the front-line off-spinner’s absence for the first time in three and a half years, part-timer Kevin Pietersen turned only his second delivery sharply and won a marginal third-umpire stumping decision to end Rudolph’s 74-ball vigil on 19 runs.
There was still little doubt nonetheless that Petersen had ensured South Africa’s advantage in a pivotal session, by batting through his fourth in succession.
Only six overs
He lasted only six overs of the next, before Broad found his outside edge pushing forward in defence.
But Duminy shepherded South Africa’s tail-enders, Vernon Philander and Morne Morkel both helping him to frustrate England too before they holed out off Finn and Broad respectively.