Dom Sibley and Zak Crawley gave England a solid foundation on the first morning of the third Test in Port Elizabeth before both fell as South Africa rallied in the afternoon to keep the score in check at 117 for two.
Joe Root had opted to bat first on a pitch that looked to have very little in it for the bowlers beyond hard toil and watched on contentedly as his inexperienced opening pair saw out the first session at 61 without loss.
That was the first time an English opening pair had batted through to lunch on day one of a Test since Sir Andrew Strauss and Sir Alastair Cook in 2011, but neither man was able to go on.
Both were suckered in to picking out leg gully, Sibley turning Kagiso Rabada round the corner for 36 and Crawley flicking Anrich Nortje having made his Test best score of 44.
England’s mood would have darkened considerably had Root followed before tea, and he could easily have gone in a nervy start to his innings, but he reached the break alongside Joe Denly.
Having lost his sixth toss in a row Proteas captain Faf Du Plessis handed the new ball to debutant Dane Paterson rather than strike bowler Rabada, allowing England a gentler beginning than they might have expected.
When he was summoned Rabada almost struck with his third delivery, Crawley taking on the pull with just eight to his name only for his miscontrolled lob to narrowly clear mid-on.
Sibley enjoyed sparring with the pacy Nortje, twice beating the man at point and producing the shot of the morning when he split the fielders at short-midwicket and mid-on with a firm drive.
Things were progressing slowly but serenely, only for South Africa to force their way into the game with a spirited showing through the middle session.
Keshav Maharaj set the tone, locking down one end for the entire session with nagging lines and occasional variations in bounce and turn. That allowed the pace men to attack in rotation, with Rabada opening the door when he aimed one into Sibley’s hips and saw the ball turned safely to Dean Elgar behind square.
With the partnership broken on 70, Maharaj almost added Denly for just one, an uppish drive just dying in front of cover. Crawley nudged within sight of a maiden half-century before he repeated Sibley’s mistake off the bustling Nortje, albeit leaving Rassie Van Der Dussen with a sharper catch.
Root was fortunate to reach the break, with his first three scoring shots all mis-hits. He could easily have gone for a duck when he top-edged a sweep off Maharaj only for the ball to land safe in front of short fine-leg and saw an attempted pull plop gently a couple of yards to the left of square-leg.
He and Denly both walked off on 13 not out. England had earlier handed Mark Wood his first competitive appearance since he tore his side in the World Cup final six months ago. Wood was preferred to Chris Woakes as the replacement for the injured James Anderson, Jofra Archer having lost his own fitness battle with a painful right elbow.