With 29 scheduled overs of a rain-interrupted third day to go England were still in the Test, hanging on by the fingernails but with a sniff of a chance. South Africa had been able to make far too many in their innings and England's 342 was more than respectable.
It still left them with a first-innings deficit of 133. Now, though, some of the bowling heroics that won the third Test at the Wanderers would leave them a tricky target in the fourth innings but one of a nature that could be attained by a single inspirational innings.
They did manage an early wicket, that of Dean Elgar, who was caught at the wicket off Jimmy Anderson, bowling with real urgency from round the wicket.
had a fourth slip posted for Hashim Amla there might have been another soon after too, the batsman getting off the mark by edging through that vacant area; the stable door was duly bolted but that horse had already gone.
Ben Stokes, who looked the most dangerous bowler, then did some damage to Amla's right hand with his first delivery that spat from a good length and gave further evidence of the dangers that lurk in the pitch. Amla was able to resume after treatment.
England took no more wickets and when bad light stopped play after 17 overs, South Africa, on 42 for one, had already extended their lead to 175 with Amla on 16, and Stephen Cook on 23. The match is now South Africa's for the taking.
With the exception of James Taylor, who played a curiously frenetic innings with an ending to match, the England batsmen had been properly bowled out, for the most part by Kagiso Rabada, the 20-year-old whose accuracy brought him figures of seven for 112.
England had begun the day on 138 for two, Cook and Joe Root having played solidly the previous evening. But while Root was able to find some fluidity from the start, Cook really struggled to get going as accurate bowling pinned him down.
Forty-four more deliveries brought him only nine more runs before Morné Morkel found the perfect length and line and just enough movement to find the edge. His 76 leaves Cook still needing 41 runs to reach 10,000 in Tests.
Root had reached an accomplished half-century and then, on 67 and with Taylor as partner, survived, on review, a catch down the legside off
that the umpire
could not have possibly seen to give out. Root was to make a further nine runs before Rabada found the lift and movement necessary to find the edge and once more de Kock took the catch.
Quite what was in Taylor’s mind is hard to gauge. He drilled his first ball straight for four and once used his feet to belt the spin of Dane Piedt over the infield. But he looked a wicket waiting to happen; he had already swatted at one high bouncer and now did so again, this time getting a toe end of the bat. It was very poor judgment on his part and his unsuccessful batting in the series has been camouflaged by the catches he has taken. The lack of discretion was compounded when another Rabada special took Jonny Bairstow’s edge.
At 211 for six England were still in danger of the possibility of a follow-on which, given the conditions, South Africa will certainly have thought about. Stokes went some way to removing that possibility with a run-a-ball swash and buckle that brought 33 runs until Rabada and the second new ball saw the end of him, and it was left to Moeen Ali and Chris Woakes to ensure that at least South Africa must bat a second time. Moeen went on to play one of his most accomplished, elegant innings for England, making 61, with 11 fours, before he was last out, hitting out at Morkel to be caught at deep extra cover.
Woakes had played a useful supporting role too, making 26, with some strokes of a pedigree not often seen in a number 9 but then fell to JP Duminy's slow stuff, an edge deflecting to slip from the keeper's knee. Stuart Broad then picked out a man at deep midwicket to give Rabada his seventh wicket. Guardian Service