Smith's gamble reaps dividends
South Africa 70 for 3 trail England 139 (Pollock 4-32) by 69 runs
Scorecard and ball-by-ball
England's lowest in Tests this year - their previous worst was 226 against West Indies - vindicated Graeme Smith's bold decision to put them in. His fast bowlers performed well, banging in short balls to exploit the pace of the pitch: Ashley Giles, in particular, was a handy punchbag for a battery of body blows before he became a third victim of injudicious hooking.
But none of England's batsmen played with much conviction and the killer blow came ten minutes before lunch when Nicky Boje dismissed Andrew Strauss - England's hero at Port Elizabeth - for 25 with his fourth delivery (53 for 3). And after the break, South Africa carried on where they had left off - picking up the three quick wickets of Graham Thorpe, Andrew Flintoff and Michael Vaughan as they kept England on the ropes.
Simon Jones and Matthew Hoggard put up some late resistance - their ninth-wicket partnership of 26 was England's highest - but the bowlers applied blow after brutal, bloody blow until they finished England off.
And while Smith, Herschelle Gibbs and Jacques Rudolph had all been sent back to the pavilion before the close, South Africa will be more than happy with an honest day's work which was kick-started by Makhaya Ntini's dismissal of Marcus Trescothick for 18. Ntini had initially struggled to find a probing line and it was only when he switched over the wicket to the left-hander Trescothick that he struck, finding the inside edge and AB de Villiers, in his first session as a Test keeper after replacing Thami Tsolekile, changed direction to hold a diving, one-handed catch to his right.
The unconvincing Mark Butcher, nearly run out early on, then aimed to smack Dale Steyn through the covers off the back foot but only succeeded in dragging the ball into the ground and on to his off stump for 5. But if that gave South Africa the slight advantage, Strauss's dismissal really put them in the driving seat. Strauss had been subdued yet patient, but, just after stroking two good fours, he failed to get over a straight ball from the left-arm spinner Boje, and Ntini took a good low catch at widish mid-off. That really started the rot.
Shaun Pollock then struck twice in his first two overs after the break: an inswinger trapped Thorpe in front for 1, then Flintoff departed without scoring, as he mis-hooked a straight bouncer which lobbed to Hashim Amla at short leg (64 for 5). Ntini then waded in with the sucker punch - a straight, well-pitched one which trapped Vaughan leg-before for 18. At 80 for 6, England were reeling.
Geraint Jones showed signs of fighting spirit, opening his account with a hooked six off Pollock, and he added several streaky edged boundaries before he perished attempting a hook too many off Ntini. A defiant Simon Jones thumped Pollock for two fours and a glorious straight six in five balls before he fell, dragging one on to his stumps. Pollock then bowled his fourth victim, Steve Harmison, to complete England's batting misery.
But England's bowlers gained the immediate breakthrough they desperately required: Smith fell for 9 as South Africa stumbled to 17 for 1. Harmison and Matthew Hoggard responded to the working-over England had received with some fiery pace of their own. Harmison clattered Smith on the upper arm before he offered an outside edge to Flintoff at second slip.
Harmison then set about tucking up Rudolph, while at the other end Hoggard was busy keeping the usually aggressive Gibbs quiet - he managed one four, a crashing cover-drive, but was mainly in defensive mode. Hoggard eventually got his man. On 15, Gibbs misjudged one which nipped back to hit off stump (48 for 2).
Harmison made history with the last ball of the day: in removing Rudolph he brought up his 64th Test wicket of this calendar year, a record for an English bowler - Ian Botham had held the honour for 25 years. Rudolph fell steering a bouncer to Thorpe at short leg after a breezy 32, but there was no doubt as to which team had the upper hand on the first day. England will need to muster all their bowling acumen and strength on the second day against South Africa's reinforced batting line-up.
Jenny Thompson is assistant editor of Cricinfo.