Joe Root led by example as he made the highest score by an England Test captain on debut as skipper, his unbeaten 184 helping the hosts recover from a slow start to post 357-5 against South Africa at Lord's.
The Yorkshireman found himself at the crease sooner than he would have hoped, with England slumping to 49-3 in the first Test on a pitch that appeared to offer much more to the batsmen.
Root's predecessor Alastair Cook was the first to go, but the new skipper proved much more resilient and, together with Ben Stokes (56) and Moeen Ali (61 not out), rescued the innings from a complete nosedive.
Stokes was the final wicket to fall and England will look to Root - who survived after being stumped off a no ball late in the day - and Moeen to keep piling on the runs on Friday.
At the start of a new era for English cricket, it was perhaps strangely fitting that Cook should be the first victim as he was caught behind for only three after England won the toss.
England were two down when Keaton Jennings went for eight, failing to review despite a delivery from Vernon Philander (3-46) appearing to pitch outside leg.
That brought Root out into the middle, but he soon saw Gary Ballance (20) fall lbw to Morne Morkel (1-64) as the hosts were left floundering on 49-3.
Root was put down by JP Duminy in the slip cordon following a thick edge as he lived a little dangerously to begin with - a missed chance the tourists would live to regret.
He watched on as Jonny Bairstow (10) headed back to the pavilion before lunch, with the Proteas strengthening their grip on the game.
Stokes finally provided some long-lasting company for Root, his half-century adding a growing sense of respectability to the home side's scorecard.
That partnership was broken up after contributing 114 runs, Stokes' top edge sending a Kagiso Rabada (1-94) bouncer into the hands of Quinton de Kock.
It did nothing to halt Root's impressive fluency and in the 60th over he brought up his century with a dab sweep towards fine leg, drawing richly deserved applause from the appreciative crowd.
The 26-year-old joined Cook, Kevin Pietersen, Andrew Strauss, Allan Lamb and Archie MacLaren in recording a century in his maiden Test as captain.
Moeen was also doing diligent work at the other end to keep England ticking over and there was another boost for Root as his dismissal was overturned after spinner Keshav Maharaj (0-107) failed to keep his foot behind the line.
The partnership surpassed 150 as Root set a record for a debutant England Test skipper and closed on a double-century to embrace his new role in typically confident fashion, his knock featuring 26 fours and a maximum.