Four years ago the match situation was uncannily similar with England, set 328 to win in the last innings, 20 for 0 by the end of the fourth day. That match was comfortably drawn, and the cautious approach that Hansie Cronje and his team adopted when they batted yesterday suggests that, with a one-nil lead in this series, they will settle for a similar result this time. Considering South Africa would equal India's world record of 10 successive home wins were they to prevail here, the safety-first approach was surprising, especially as Andy Caddick looked the only bowler capable of running through them.
Extracting pace and bounce that others found elusive, he bowled beautifully for scant reward. Without enticing the batsmen into being aggressive, Phil Tufnell was less effective, extracting slow turn that rarely threatened once the batsmen had spent time at the crease.
Although not as enlivening as the previous day's play, which witnessed a 13th Test century for Michael Atherton and a whirlwind 42 from Andrew Flintoff, there was still much to admire from both sides.
In fact, England have so far played well and they might have found themselves in a stronger position had Jacques Kallis, unbeaten on 74, been given out when he was 12 after edging Tufnell to Chris Adams, who made what appeared to be a sharp reaction catch at short gully.
The incident happened soon after lunch with South Africa on 48 for 2 and Kallis labouring. England, by contrast, despite a 77 runs deficit on the first innings, were on a roll and applying pressure following the prompt removal of both openers.
Bowling from the Duck Pond End, Tufnell had mesmerised Kallis into a state of near strokelessness when he forced him to push at one which took a thick outside edge and flew low to Adams' left.
The fielder reacted by sticking out his hand into which the ball appeared to go an inch or two above the ground. Judging by the fielder's reaction - the mild surprise followed by unfettered jubilation - the catch was almost certainly a clean one. Kallis, who had a front seat view, felt otherwise and stood his ground, forcing umpire Rudi Koertzen to seek guidance from his colleague, Steve Bucknor, at square leg.
Although few batsmen walk at Test level any more, Kallis' actions were not simply asking for a judgement by the umpire, as Michael Atherton's were at Trent Bridge when he gloved Donald to the keeper. Indeed by claiming the catch had bounced, he was also accusing Adams of sharp practice.
For those who recalled Kallis catching his Middlesex colleague Mark Ramprakash on the half-volley in the Edgbaston Test 18 months ago - a decision that went against Ramprakash - it all seemed a bit rich, and there were some curt exchanges between him and the fielders closest to him.
It is possible that both umpires had their line of sight impeded by players. Whatever his reasons, Koertzen was forced to call for an adjudication by the third umpire, Dave Orchard, an innovation only brought in to judge catches this time last year.
After several inconclusive reruns from different angles by the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC), the terrestrial channel which has just paid pounds 10m for a new five-year contract to show cricket here, Orchard had to give Kallis the benefit of the doubt.
In a piece of braggadocio that TV companies like to go in for, Sky claimed to have evidence that the catch had carried. In fact their slo-mo camera did provide a better shot than any available on SABC, but it was still not categorical, the cameraman's pan not catching the vital milliseconds prior to the ball ending between Adam's fingers.
In keeping with the illogical regulations in which cricket tends to wallow, the most ridiculous bit of the whole saga was that had Sky's pictures been decisive, the third umpire, situated in a room just two doors away, would not have been given them. Apparently only pictures from the home provider can be used.
Later the match referee, Barry Jarman, issued a brief statement regretting the incident which he claimed was an "unplayable lie" for the umpires. "The technology available to the umpires was inconclusive," said Jarman. "However, it would a marvellous thing if all the technology at the ground was made available to the third umpire."
There was nothing cutting edge about the way England's innings was finished off in the morning - indeed there was something curiously primitive in the way Nantie Hayward skidded one through Caddick's defences.
The strike allowed the home side a cushion of comfort that Darren Gough pricked almost immediately when he had Gary Kirsten caught in the gully after driving at a wide one. Herschelle Gibbs followed soon after, Caddick's probings around off-stump finally paying off as the batsmen edged a lifter to Flintoff at second slip.
If South Africa were not exactly in trouble, Kallis's comatose batting forced Daryll Cullinan to become virtually the sole outlet for his side's runs. He partially succeeded too and was playing freely when Caddick produced arguably the ball of the match, an off-cutter that clean bowled him through the gate. Sadly for England, they had only one further success when Flintoff trapped Cronje with a long-hop that he cut to Michael Vaughan at backward point.
Unsurprisingly, the Botham comparisons have already begun and Flintoff's knack of taking wickets with seemingly innocuous deliveries is certainly a common trait. Providing South Africa declare - not guaranteed given Cronje's conservative outlook - Flintoff may yet be called on to show some of the great all-rounders other qualities as well.
ST GEORGE'S PARK SCOREBOARD
Third and Fourth days England won toss
SOUTH AFRICA - First Innings 450 (L Klusener 174, D J Cullinan 58, J N Rhodes 50; P C R Tufnell 4-124).
ENGLAND - First Innings
(Overnight Friday: 139 for 1)
M A Atherton b Hayward 108
381 min, 274 balls, 15 fours
*N Hussain c Boucher b Donald 82
214 min, 154 balls, 10 fours, 2 sixes
M P Vaughan b Hayward 21
146 min, 99 balls, 3 fours
A J Stewart b Donald 15
69 min, 36 balls, 2 fours
C J Adams c Kallis b Pollock 25
76 min, 65 balls, 2 fours
A Flintoff b Pollock 42
67 min, 37 balls, 9 fours
A R Caddick b Hayward 35
134 min, 96 balls, 4 fours
D Gough b Donald 6
32 min, 28 balls, 1 four
C E W Silverwood c Klusener b Hayward 6
37 min, 23 balls, 1 four
P C R Tufnell not out 7
15 min, 13 balls, 1 four
Extras (b1, lb8, nb13) 22
Total (594 min, 137.1 overs) 373
Fall (cont): 2-160 (Hussain), 3-228 (Vaughan), 4-229 (Atherton), 5-264 (Stewart), 6-281 (Adams), 7-336 (Flintoff), 8-349 (Gough), 9-364 (Silverwood), 10-373 (Caddick).
Bowling: Donald 34-9-109-3 (3-2-5-0 3-0-29-0, 6-1-14-0, 5-1-21-1, 3-2- 6-0, 6-0-20-1, 6-3-9-1, 2-0-5-0); Pollock 34-7-112-3 (nb9) (6-1-24-1, 4-1-12-0, 10-4-15-0, 7-1-20-0, 7-0-41-2); Hayward 28.1-7-75-4 (nb2) (1- 0-6-0, 5-1-22-0, 2-0-3-0, 4-2-7-0, 4-0-11-0, 5-2-7-2, 4-0-15-0, 3.1-2- 4-2); Klusener 25-9-48-0 (nb2) (6-2-14-0, 6-3-7-0, 3-1-7-0, 6-3-11-0, 4-0-9-0); Cronje 16-5-20-0 (3-1-3-0, 9-3-11-0, 3-0-6-0, 1-1-0-0).
Progress: Third day: 150: 214 min, 49.4 overs. Lunch: 199 for 2 (Atherton 91, Vaughan 11) 73 overs. 200: 314 min, 73.4 overs. (New ball taken after 80 overs at 213 for 2). 250: 412 min, 95.1 overs. Tea: 261-4 (Stewart 14, Adams 15) 100 overs. 300: 486 min, 112.4 overs. 350: 543 min, 124.5 overs. Close: 364-9 (Caddick 33) 133.5 overs. Fourth day: Innings closed 10.44am.
Atherton: 50: 123 min, 81 balls, 8 fours. 100: 339 min, 245 balls, 14 fours.
Hussain: 50: 83 min, 54 balls, 7 fours, 2 sixes.
SOUTH AFRICA - Second Innings
G Kirsten c Vaughan b Gough 2
18 min, 23 balls
H H Gibbs c Flintoff b Caddick 10
56 min, 38 balls, 1 four
J H Kallis not out 74
323 min, 230 balls, 3 fours
D J Cullinan b Caddick 18
65 min, 45 balls, 2 fours
*W J Cronje c Vaughan b Flintoff 27
77 min, 55 balls, 3 fours
J N Rhodes not out 35
141 min, 121 balls, 2 fours
Extras (b4,lb10,w1,nb8) 23
Total (for 4, 342 min, 84 overs) 189
Fall: 1-5 (Kirsten), 2-17 (Gibbs), 3-50 (Cullinan), 4-98 (Cronje).
Bowling: Gough 15-4-37-1 (nb3) (5-4-5-1, 2-0-6-0, 2-0-10-0, 6-0-16-0); Caddick 18-4-29-2 (nb3) (8-2-13-1, 6-0-10-1, 4-2-6-0); Silverwood 10- 1-24-0 (w1) (3-1-6-0, 3-0-11-0, 4-0-7-0); Tufnell 33-9-63-0 (nb1) (12- 5-16-0, 2-0-4-0, 19-4-43-0); Vaughan 2-0-9-0 (nb1) (one spell); Flintoff 6-1-13-1 (4-1-9-1, 2-0-4-0).
Progress: Lunch: 42 for 2 (Kallis 11,Cullinan 14) 24 overs. 50: 122 min, 29.5 overs. 100: 203 min, 47.4 overs. 150: 288 min, 69.2 overs.
Kallis: 50: 256 min, 175 balls, 2 fours.
Umpires: S A Bucknor (WI) and R E Koertzen.
TV replay umpire: D L Orchard.Reuse content