Port Elizabeth: An unbroken stand of 56 between Ben Stokes and Ollie Pope gave England a slight edge over South Africa at the end of a fluctuating first day of the third Test in Port Elizabeth on Thursday.
On a lifeless pitch, the tourists were in danger of being overwhelmed when they lost three wickets for 35 runs to slip to 184-4.
But Stokes solidly moved to 25 not out and Pope shone in his unbeaten 33 to take England to 224-4 at the close.
They will return on Friday looking to buck a trend which has seen the rest of the top order fail to capitalise on good starts.
When Dom Sibley and Zak Crawley were adding 70 for the first wicket, it appeared as though England were going to take full advantage of winning the toss.
However, South Africa wrestled their way into the contest thanks mainly to superb spinner Keshav Maharaj and the tactics of captain Faf du Plessis.
Only late in the day, as the second new ball was repelled for 10 overs, did England take the advantage, especially with the hosts set to bat last on a surface that is likely to deteriorate.
Still, wickets early on day two would shift the momentum again, meaning the series -- level at 1-1 -- remains in the balance.