No less than 19 wickets fell on a deteriorating Lord's pitch on day four as a smart knock from Jonny Bairstow combined with electric bowling from Moeen Ali eased England to a 1-0 lead in the four-game series.
England batting order collapse before Bairstow revival
Comfortably sitting on a 216-run lead at 119-1 overnight, England looked in prime position to secure a substantial victory from the outset of Sunday's action. Yet Alastair Cook and Gary Ballance added just 20 to the hosts' score before Morne Morkel dismissed the former England captain for a patient 69.
That moment sparked a flurry of wickets as South Africa gave themselves a glimmer of hope. Six more wickets fell for only 43 runs as spinner Keshav Maharaj took three whilst being backed up by the pace of Morkel and Kagiso Rabada. England spinners Ali and Liam Dawson would have been feeling perky after seeing the success Maharaj was manufacturing.
Five England players returned to the dressing room without making double figures, including new captain and first innings hero Joe Root, though wicketkeeper Bairstow held his nerve as wickets tumbled around him.
Underpinned by Mark Wood, the pair added an important 45 before the seam bowler was dismissed by Rabada for 28. Bairstow went on to edge past the 50 milestone before Maharaj took his fourth wicket to end the England innings on 233.
Spin of Ali too hot to handle for the tourists
Chasing an improbable 331 to win, South Africa could not have made a worse start. Heino Kuhn departed for just nine as Bairstow took an excellent one-handed catch behind the stumps off Jimmy Anderson's bowling.
Ali then repeated the trick with a fine catch of his own as Dean Elgar looked to fire a straight drive back where it came from off the spin bowler.
South Africa were reeling at 12-2 and two more important wickets quickly followed. JP Duminy sent a shot straight to Moeen who caught the dangerous batsman off the bowling of Wood. Liam Dawson then picked up a confidence-boosting wicket when he trapped Hashim Amla for just 11 at 25-4.
Temba Bavuma and Quinton de Kock provided a brief spell of resistance before Ali really set to work. The spinner picked up all of the next five wickets as South Africa fell from 64-4 to 94-9. Ali was getting the ball to grip and turn at various angles and the middle-order batsman simply could not handle the range of deliveries.
Vernon Philander and Morkel released the shackles with nothing to lose before Dawson brought the 25-run partnership from 17 deliveries to an end. England had cleaned South Africa out for 119 in just 37 overs to go 1-0 ahead in the series.