ALASTAIR COOK established a commanding position for England after they bowled South Africa out for 361 on day three of the first Investec Test at Lord’s.
Cook (59no) and Keaton Jennings both had a little good fortune in an opening stand of 80 on the way to 119-1 at stumps, giving England an overall lead of 216 despite the earlier resistance of Quinton de Kock (51) and Vernon Philander (52).
Jennings would have been run out for nought, had Heino Kuhn managed a direct hit at the stumps from cover, and Cook had 31 when De Kock missed a leg-side stumping in part-time off-spinner JP Duminy’s first over.
Nonetheless, in the absence of key seamer Philander, who suffered severe bruising to his bowling hand while batting, the openers’ patience - and skill on the sweep against South Africa’s spinners - put England on a course to push for victory.
Former captain Cook’s painstaking 127-ball half-century was the cornerstone.
De Kock had earlier wasted no time against the second new ball, racing to his 50 with 10 fours from just 36 balls, as he and Philander shared an eighth-wicket stand of 66.
But England stuck to their task to eke out five wickets after the tourists resumed on 214.
England’s bowlers were held up first on another sunny morning by Temba Bavuma (59) and nightwatchman Kagiso Rabada, before Liam Dawson and Moeen Ali (four for 59) struck in successive overs.
Dawson succeeded with his second delivery, Rabada playing for turn up the slope but edging behind as the ball went on with the arm.
Moeen then struck at the other end with a very good one which landed right in the danger area to Bavuma, neither back nor forward and caught at slip via the wicketkeeper’s thigh when the ball gripped and bounced on him.
Much therefore depended on De Kock - a one-day international opener yet coming in down at number eight here.
The wicketkeeper-batsman duly climbed into three successive fours in Stuart Broad’s first over with the new ball, and repeated the feat soon afterwards, too.
Philander was still on nought after 12 deliveries when James Anderson hit him on the right hand as he took it off the handle to a brute of a ball.
He needed extensive treatment, ice and a painkiller but was sufficiently revived to get off the mark with a leg-glance for four next ball and he soon carved a second boundary past point off Broad, too.
After a spell of 4-0-35-0, Joe Root replaced Broad with Moeen again, but De Kock was immediately up the pitch to hit the off-spinner for two more leg-side boundaries to bring up his 50.
The left-hander was scenting more quick runs but fell to a very good diving catch by Stokes at cover as he drove Anderson on the up.
Dawson appeared a curious choice in search of two remaining wickets after lunch, and his review for lbw against Keshav Maharaj from way up the pitch was far from obvious.
Jonny Bairstow’s insistence from behind the stumps proved spot on, though, as the ball struck pad before bat and was proven to be bang on target.
Number 11 Morne Morkel provided more resistance, as Philander completed his 80-ball half-century in a last-wicket stand of 24 which ended when the senior partner got a little greedy against the returning Moeen and was bowled aiming to hit him into the pavilion.
England had earned a first-innings lead of 97 but still needed to bat well second time round, on a pitch likely to favour spin for the remainder of the match.
Maharaj was the most obvious threat, in a marathon 17-over spell from the nursery end.
But with the ball turning exclusively into the two left-handers, their prod-and-sweep methods were productive if rarely pretty until Jennings succumbed to Morkel when he got an inside-edge behind off the back foot.
Joined by Gary Ballance, Cook slowed to a near halt - taking 13 overs to move from 40 to 42 and facing 23 balls in 38 minutes without scoring.
There were also 69 minutes between his seventh and eighth boundaries, before a poke for three past cover then brought him his 50 off Rabada.
As ever with Cook, though, it was substance rather than style that counted - and in his first match since relinquishing the captaincy, England had good reason to be thankful for his efforts once again.