Gradually, inexorably, the match, the series and the status slipped through England's hands yesterday. Some time today, barring a resplendent and historic batting performance, South Africa will win the fourth Test and the rubber 2-0, becoming the world's top-ranked side.
It will be a perfectly just outcome. The tourists have been the superior team. Hashim Amla gathered another stylish hundred, not quite of the monumental proportions of his triple century at The Oval, but with a similar air of inevitability.
A flurry of wickets in mid-afternoon during a fast, incisive spell by Steve Finn, below, seemed to regenerate England's cause. But South Africa did as they have done throughout, retrenched once more. They could hardly have timed the end of their innings better. England, needing 346 to win, faced 13 overs in the evening after a long, hot day in the field. It was too much for them.
Before the fourth over was out, both openers had gone. Alastair Cook was a cast-iron lbw candidate, while Andrew Strauss was probably undone as much by events of the past fortnight as by anything else. He might have expected the ball to swing, but in effect he chose to shoulder arms to a straight ball, was on the back foot and hit on the pads bang in front.
The crowd gave him a consoling round of applause, given all that he has had to deal with in the Pietersen Affair. But the truth is that Strauss has scored 107 runs in his six innings in this series.
To win the match, level the series and retain their title, England will have to make more fourth-innings runs than they have ever done to win a Test – they made 332 to beat Australia at Melbourne in 1928-29 – and more than has ever been compiled to win at Lord's – West Indies scored 344 in 1984.
England did not help their cause. Two more catches were spilt, making a total of three in the innings, nine in the series. Having given Amla a life when he had scored only two late on Saturday, England added two more errors. A B de Villiers was lured by Graeme Swann into offering a catch to Jimmy Anderson at short midwicket, a sitter as these things go. The least costly missed chance was when Strauss put down Jacques Rudolph at slip, also off Swann.