Dale Steyn led a South Africa fight-back on the second day of the first Test as England struggled to 326 for seven at lunch yesterday.
England resumed at the Oval on 267 for three, having bossed day one when Steyn and his fellow bowlers invited criticism for a lack of aggression. However, the new day brought a new cutting edge as Alastair Cook added just one run to be dismissed for 115.
Ravi Bopara made a duck on his comeback and Ian Bell was bowled for 13.
Matt Prior endured a difficult morning as conditions changed and were more overcast, but was 32 not out at the interval, with Stuart Broad on eight.
Steyn finished day one wicketless with 62 runs conceded, but improved those figures to two for 70.
England, looking dominant at 170 for one, are seeking to hold on to their No. 1 ranking in Tests, as South Africa can leapfrog them with a victory in this three-match series.
Jacques Kallis conceded just a boundary in his five-over spell and Steyn allowed eight runs in his crucial five-over stint to emphasize the squeeze the Proteas applied on England.
Left-hander Cook dragged a full-length delivery from Steyn on to his off-stump to end an innings that spanned 400 minutes and 295 balls.
Bopara, recalled to the Test team in place of Jonny Bairstow after recent success in limited-overs games, looked totally out of sorts during his six balls.
After surviving a close LBW appeal, the next ball he played a half-hearted hook shot only to edge Steyn and give AB de Villiers his third catch. That was at 272 for five.
The normally fluent Bell could not assert himself during his 56-ball innings, which came to an end when he left a Kallis delivery that seamed into him and clipped his off bail. The previous two balls had moved away from the right-hander. Bell might have been run out shortly before when a suicidal single by Prior left him stranded, but fielder Alviro Petersen panicked with his throw and missed the stumps.
Tim Bresnan (8) was the seventh wicket to fall when he tried to cut a short and wide leg-break from Imran Tahir, only to bottom-edge onto his stumps.