Steven Finn thrust himself to the front of the queue for the Boxing Day Test with four wickets on day one against South Africa A.
Finn was not in the initial 16-man squad for the tour but, after recovering well from a bone stress injury in his left foot, he hit form on his return to action at the Pietermaritzburg Oval.
He dismissed the dangerous Quinton De Kock with his third ball of the tour and then turned in a superb spell after lunch to remove Omphile Ramela, Khaya Zondo and captain Dane Vilas in the space of nine deliveries.
His 4-34 was not so much a nudge to the selectors as an uncompromising shoulder charge from the 6ft 7ins seamer ahead of the series opener in Durban.
Chris Woakes had positioned himself well for a possible Test recall during Finn’s absence, but may now have to settle for a watching brief.
The day went almost entirely to plan for the tourists, who opted to bowl first having lost two sessions in the field to a thunder storm in Potchefstroom.
They rolled over a strong-looking South African second string for 136 – Stephen Cook carrying his bat for a stern-faced half-century – before England’s Alastair Cook (36no) and Alex Hales (28no) put on 64 without loss by stumps.
Hales twice fell cheaply in last week’s curtain-raiser and will be boosted after coming through a challenging opening blast from internationals Marchant De Lange and Chris Morris.
Hales was hit on the glove by the rapid De Lange shortly before play was suspended for bad light and will be hoping for no adverse reaction.
England began the day well on a pitch that looked green, but offered little zip off the surface. By lunch they had restricted South Africa A to a modest 66-3, with Footitt, Finn and Stuart Broad sharing the wickets.
Footitt and Broad both succeeded with rising deliveries around off stump, which Reeza Hendricks and then Rilee Rossouw nicked fine to wicketkeeper Jonny Bairstow.
Finn was offered a first chance to impress in the 13th over and duly had De Kock, owner of six Test caps, caught by Hales at third slip.
It was a loose stroke to a delivery slanted towards the cordon, but Finn’s knack for inducing such brainwaves is an attractive one for the selectors.
The paceman returned in the afternoon with a quick, controlled six-over stint that cannot have failed to make him favourite to join Broad and the rested James Anderson in Durban.
Ramela and Zondo succumbed to successive deliveries, the former to a smart James Taylor catch at point and the latter for a golden duck.
Home captain Vilas, who played for the Proteas in the recent India series, was next to depart lbw to leave the scoreboard at 99 for six.
Ben Stokes added a seventh just before tea, Morris playing one shot too many after making a breezy 21.
The innings lasted 10 balls after the break, Stokes too good for Nos 10 and 11, while Keshav Maharaj was carelessly run out.
At the other end anchorman Stephen Cook, present for all 10 dismissals, dug in watchfully barring one dropped catch off the spin of Moeen Ali.
He finished on 53no from 170 balls, having passed 11,000 first-class runs in the process.