England halted within sight of victory
England 425 and 93 for 3 (Strauss 51*) need another 49 runs to beat South Africa 337 and 229 (Smith 55, Kallis 61, S Jones 4-38)
Scorecard and ball-by-ball details
England were on the brink of an historic victory in the first Test at Port Elizabeth, before bad light brought an early finish to the fourth day. South Africa set them only 142 to win, and they now need just 49 more, with seven wickets remaining - and Andrew Strauss and Graham Thorpe at the crease. If England do go on to win tomorrow, it will be the first time they have ever won eight consecutive Test matches.
Simon Jones did the damage for England on a seesawing day, ripping apart South Africa's batting with four wickets. England's run-chase got off to a terrible start as they lost two wickets for 11 runs - and then Michael Vaughan shortly afterwards - before Strauss and Thorpe stabilised the innings.
A day which had hung in the balance lurched dramatically in England's favour after lunch, as Jones struck twice in two balls - including the prize wicket of the classy Jacques Kallis for 61 - to leave South Africa reeling at 201 for 6. Kallis had survived a dropped catch on 28 in the morning as Mark Butcher, at cover, saw his checked drive too late and he could only parry the ball with his right hand. Kallis responded by punching and pulling his way to 50, and he was looking dangerous before Jones trapped him plumb on the back foot with the second ball of his post-lunch spell.
Simon Taufel, the umpire, did not hesitate: but if that decision was easy he had his work cut out the very next delivery, as Shaun Pollock appeared to edge through to Geraint Jones. Pollock was given out, although replays showed the ball had actually only brushed his pad.
Andrew Flintoff was next to strike, as Zander de Bruyn edged him to the diving Marcus Trescothick at first slip for 19. Then Thami Tsolekile was unable to replicate his feisty first-innings fun, as Jones shattered his stumps with a slower ball before he had scored (218 for 8). Makhaya Ntini wasn't in the mood to hang around either: after a fine flowing extra-cover-drive he was trapped by Jones, playing across the line.
The innings was brought to a hasty close on 229 as Andrew Hall, having chipped in with 17, was run out by Thorpe's return from the boundary. It was the second time in the match that what, on paper, is a strong South African batting line-up has failed to deliver the goods lower down the order. Pollock did make 31 in the first innings, but de Bruyn and Hall haven't prospered.
South Africa's afternoon slump was rapid after a morning in which the honours were shared. England may have removed Graeme Smith and Boeta Dippenaar before lunch, but South Africa had scored steadily throughout. Smith eventually fell mistiming a bouncer on 55 - Flintoff's immediate response to being driven straight for four - just after reaching his half-century. Jones raced forward from the leg-side boundary, tumbling forward to take an impressive low catch (152 for 3).
On a wicket conducive to turn, Ashley Giles was introduced surprisingly late - shortly before lunch - and he took only three balls to strike as Dippenaar played on to his leg stump for 10. But it was Jones's seam which did the damage, and put England in the box seat to wrap up the match.
But they got off to a terrible start, as they lost both Trescothick and Butcher for ducks. Trescothick edged the very first ball of England's second innings through to Tsolekile as Pollock immediately found the perfect line and length. Butcher followed when Ntini fired a wayward one across him. Tsolekile dived into Smith's line of sight at first slip, but he did not falter and held on to a blinding catch. While that ball may have been off-target, Ntini found a better line against the left-handers in this innings, and Strauss was lucky to survive as he edged him through the slips.
And the bowlers kept up the pressure as Dale Steyn removed Vaughan with a beautiful awayswinger which clattered into middle and off stumps to give South Africa some hope (50 for 3). But Strauss worked hard, bringing up his fifty on a testing slow pitch, while Thorpe clung on at the other end, surviving the part-time offspin of his first-innings nemesis Smith.
However, England will still be favourites to wrap up the win tomorrow, and take a 1-0 lead to Durban for the second Test of the five-match series, which starts on Boxing Day.
Jenny Thompson is assistant editor of Cricinfo.