The action was worth the wait at the Wanderers. After the morning session was ruled out by rain, this was a back and forth day
At the end, this was England's day, with the only clouds being the loss of Jofra Archer to injury once more and Ben Stokes’ exchange of words with a fan as he left the field after a dismissal the South Africans could barely believe.
Looking to his right, he barked obscenities before entering the famous Bullring tunnel. South African TV producers replayed the incident, which Stokes can expect to hear from the match referee about.
When Stokes was dismissed, driving hard to first slip off Anrich Nortje, England had lost four for 50 and looked like they might be wasting a terrific start to the game.
But Joe Root and Ollie Pope put on 35 in challenging conditions, with the light fading dark and the pitch lively. England were 192 for four when bad light brought stumps just before 6pm.
The news that Archer would be unavailable for the third straight Test was a surprise, and a major disappointment for England and bowler, offset only by the news that Mark Wood was available.
Chris Woakes came in for Dom Bess in the only change as England, like South Africa, opted for a five-man attack.
That disappointment was offset by the performance, once more, of England’s young opening pair Dom Sibley and Zak Crawley when Root won the toss for the fourth time in the series (it was his sixth straight victory, and Faf du Plessis’s seventh defeat in a row).
The openers had put on 70 at Port Elizabeth, England’s highest first-wicket stand in the first innings of a Test since 2009. They broke their own record here and, by tea, were 100 without loss.
Crawley was, by some distance, the more impressive of the two today. He drove beautifully between mid-off and cover-point, and was strong off the legs.
When Nortje bowled a fiery spell with the pitch hardening under the first sun of the day, he was hit on the head and body but recovered to pull strongly.
Sibley looked less comfortable and, despite some lovely drives down the ground, was a little lucky in the morning session. He was given out caught behind down the legside off Beuran Hendricks by umpire Joel Wilson, only for his review to reveal that the ball had hit his pad, not the bat.
Then, when Vernon Philander swapped ends, Sibley tamely fenced to gully, where Temba Bavuma took a solid catch. Wilson, though, had correctly called a no-ball. Sibley had 12 at the time.
After lunch, Hendricks had his revenge as he was caught down the legside. Sibley has enjoyed a fine tour with a breakout hundred, but will be frustrated to have been out four times between 29 and 44. He is averaging a very solid 39.75 in six Tests.
Crawley soon followed having made a maiden Test fifty, caught at slip off a lifter from the returning Philander. He matched a record by reaching his highest Test score in five straight innings and it is not just in the numbers column that he looks better with each knock.
Joe Denly’s 27 was a fraught innings. He scored boundaries off his inside then outside edge. He was dropped at point by Pieter Malan on four, then at midwicket by Dwaine Pretorius on 25. Both times he was playing expansive strokes, as he was when caught at slip off the deserving Dane Paterson.
When Stokes went England were teetering, but Root and Pope provided clarity. With more rain about across the remainder of the game, 300 might be a very fine score.