Quinton de Kock’s maiden Test century put South Africa in command of the final Test as England closed day two in Centurion 337 runs behind at 138-2.
The 23-year-old, in his eighth Test, was dropped three times but reached an entertaining hundred from 104 balls.
England claimed two wickets in five balls early on but left-hander De Kock shared in stands of 50 and 82 and was unbeaten on 129 as his team made 475.
In reply Alex Hales fell cheaply but Alastair Cook held firm with 67.
South Africa resumed on 329-5 with De Kock on 29 and added a very useful 146 runs in 42 overs before they were finally all out midway through the afternoon session.
Their fast bowler Kagiso Rabada claimed two early wickets, trapping Nick Compton for 19 with one that pitched halfway down the wicket but hit barely above the boots, and dismissals of that nature will give them hope of a consolation victory after conceding the series with defeats at Durban and Johannesburg.
Pressure mounts on Hales
England’s new opener Hales, playing his seventh Test innings, struck three fluent boundaries in his 15 from 14 balls, with consecutive attractive strokes to the fence through the off-side off the back foot.
But in the sixth over he skewed a loose drive, which was comfortably caught at backward point.
The 27-year-old Nottinghamshire batsman averages only 19 for the series, with 135 runs from a total of 342 balls, and has only one score of note thus far, 60 in the second Test at Cape Town.
Hales is the eighth opening partner for Cook since the retirement of former skipper Andrew Strauss in 2012.
The current captain showed a welcome return to form, however, looking assured in his first fifty of the series, the 47th of his illustrious Test career, and is only 50 short of 10,000 Test runs.
Joe Root edged a delivery fractionally short of De Kock behind the stumps as the occasional ball misbehaved but England’s two leading batsmen put on 60 to take the team to the close without further loss.
Having reprieved centurions Stephen Cook and Hashim Amla with dropped catches on day one, England were guilty of further errors in the field as South Africa pressed on to a commanding first innings total.
In only the third over of the day De Kock scythed James Anderson to gully where a diving Ben Stokes could not grasp the chance.
On 80, De Kock edged the luckless Chris Woakes and bisected wicketkeeper Jonny Bairstow and wide first slip Alastair Cook, neither of whom went for the catch.
Ten runs later, De Kock’s drive at Moeen Ali went through the hands of Cook at short extra-cover.
The left-hander played an array of shots all around the wicket and was particularly severe on Moeen Ali, from whose bowling he scored 45 runs in only 28 balls, including two mighty leg-side sixes.
What they said about the pitch
Former South Africa wicketkeeper Mark Boucher: “The pitch is not going to get any better; those cracks are going to widen. Batting from now on is going to be hard graft. In the last innings it will be a real lottery.
“You do feel that if South Africa get it right in a session, they will do some proper damage. You could have a session where England go 60-4.”
Ex-England skipper Michael Vaughan: “There’s going to be more low bounce over the next three days. You’re under a lot of pressure when a team gets 475 on the board – you’re only one bad session away from losing the match.
“If England get out of this Test with something, they’ll have done brilliantly.”
Stats of the day
- The third time in the last six Tests at Centurion that South Africa have had three century-makers in an innings
- But 475 is the lowest all out total when three batsmen have made a hundred
- The second fastest century by a South Africa wicketkeeper
- Only the second century by a South Africa wicketkeeper against England since re-admission