This could be time to prepare for mourning. England look likely to go 2-1 down in a series which moves on to The Oval, a ground that will favour South Africa's superior batting.
It was England's careless batting that conceded a crucial lead of 35 at Headingley yesterday. Despite the cheap dismissal of their prized openers, Gary Kirsten - again - and Jacques Kallis blunted England's offensive by playing with the qualities England's batsmen mostly lacked - prudence, patience and a bit of felicity.
They put on 97 for the third wicket and begin today with a lead of 199 with five wickets in hand. Kirsten said last night that 250 ought to be enough. Ignore the match fixed by Hansie Cronje at Centurion in 2000 and England have only twice scored more than 200 in the fourth innings to beat South Africa. The chances of them doing so again on a pitch that is spitting and shooting are slim.
The difference between the two teams in this game may not be judged to have been England's capricious decision to take the light on Friday afternoon, but the gutsy late South African stands that put on exactly 200 runs for the last three wickets - a triumph for character (Kirsten) and coaching (the remarkable improvement shown by Mak-haya Ntini and Monde Zondeki). England's last three managed precisely 14 runs yesterday, or a mangy 18 for the last four wickets.
The full frustration of the day for England is in the statistic that shows the last seven wickets put on 110 runs, and half of those were scored by Andrew Flintoff.
Overnight the sides were evenly matched but, when he writes the diary of his eventful summer, Ed Smith will not need many words to describe his role in England's innings. Kallis's first ball of the day rose sharply to shoulder height. Smith reared away, but he could not remove his bat and Mark Boucher took the catch.
It was a dramatic start to a day that had begun on schedule on a morning that was uninviting for batsmen and spectators. Contrary to the good weather forecasts, thick cloud hung low. Kallis and Andrew Hall were exploiting a pitch dented by balls bowled when it was damp on day one. Extreme caution would be required at all times. Nasser Hussain and Alec Stewart pursued a policy of gritty defence, and in the first hour added only 28 runs in 16 overs.
The crowd was growing, it was attentive and self-consciously eccentric. At Headingley now, like Edgbaston (where it all began) and Trent Bridge, it is the done thing to dress up, preferably in groups. On the Western Terrace there were 16 Incredible Hulks, nuns of course, a dozen Jimmy Saviles, a line in 118 running vests, three Knights of Malta, a Roman centurion and a pantomime horse. Who still speaks of the instinctive discretion of the English?
There was little of the elegant fluency Hussain had displayed on Friday evening, and 85 minutes passed before the first evidence of indiscipline. Stewart tried to hook a rising ball from Dewald Pretorius from outside the off stump. He missed, but managed to connect with a similar ball in the next over which fell gently into the hands of Hall at square leg. Stewart looked displeased with himself. As well he might, because he is not getting the runs a No 6 ought to. If he were anyone else or the next game were anywhere else, his place at The Oval would be in doubt.
The introduction to England's chapter of accidents after lunch was Hussain's gentle push back to Jacques Rudolph, bowling his first over of spin in Test cricket to use up a couple of overs before the new ball.
Hussain stood, head bowed, at the crease for a long 10 seconds before trudging off. It must have been his softest dismissal in Test cricket. To add the injury to insult, he bruised his left foot.
Then came the new ball, out went Martin Bicknell (lost his off-stump to Ntini), Kabir Ali and James Kirtley, neither of whom could resist the temptation of a ball from Hall pitching outside off and moving away. Both gave routine catches to Boucher. That England got any runs after lunch was due to Flintoff, who scored 39 of the 47 England managed in the 55 minutes after the interval.
Despite disappointing averages with bat and ball, English Test crowds have great expectations of Flintoff. He is more a mascot than an icon, and it did not matter to the crowd that in four Test innings at Headingley he had made precisely no runs. He announced himself with two boundaries off Kallis, who was South Africa's best bowler, threatening and parsimonious.
Flintoff simply advertises his flaws. He loves to hook, and just before lunch he launched into a ball from Ntini which did not go as far as he intended and rolled out of Neil McKenzie's fingertips as he dived for the catch. After lunch, he hit Ntini harder into the Western Terrace and managed two sixes into the East Stand off Pretorius, who leaked runs at a rate of five an over.
His fifty brought up the 300, but when James Anderson came in, Flintoff decided extreme measures were needed. He stepped back to hit Ntini and Ntini knocked over his stumps. It was not clever, but intelligence is not what Flintoff brings to England, so far.
England's bowlers began South Africa's second innings just as Vaughan must have prayed, for Graeme Smith and Herschelle Gibbs were both out cheaply again, each lbw to Kirtley and Bicknell - who would have forecast that they would be the opening bowlers only four weeks ago?
Both took advantage of the pitch, as did Anderson and Flintoff and, eventually, Kabir Ali. Their bowling figures at the end of the day showed that they had done their best.
Scoring was hard, and the rate was no more than 2.65 per over, but England needed wickets and they did not come. Kirsten was dogged as only he can be and Kallis was content to play second fiddle - until he hooked Flintoff for six to bring up the 50 partnership.
Kirtley finally had Kallis caught behind, and Ali trapped Kirsten leg before, but not before he had taken his total for the match to 197, scored in 11 hours and 37 minutes. Rudolph was out cheaply, but good batsmen are in and there are a couple still to come.
Flintoff, a model of optimism, said last night that England could still win, but this is the game in which South Africa were 21 for 4 and England were 190 for 1. That, and South Africa being in control at the end of day three, define Michael Vaughan's problem.
npower Test scoreboard
South Africa won toss
South Africa - First Innings 342 (G Kirsten 130, M Zondeki 59, J A Rudolph 55)
England - First Innings (Overnight 197-3)
N Hussain c and b Rudolph 42
E T Smith c Boucher b Kallis 0
A J Stewart c Hall b Pretorius 15
A Flintoff b Ntini 55
M P Bicknell b Ntini 4
Kabir Ali c Boucher b Hall 1
R J Kirtley c Boucher b Ntini 1
J M Anderson not out 0
Extras (b2 lb17 w6 nb13) 38
Total (387 min, 87.2 overs) 307
Fall: 4-197 (Smith); 5-239 (Stewart), 6-261 (Hussain), 7-289 (Bicknell), 8-293 (Ali), 9-307 (Kirtley)
Bowling: Pretorius 19-1-100-1 (nb8, w2) (2-0-18-0 4-0-19-0 3-0-21-0 10-1-42-1), Ntini 20.2-4-62-3 (nb3) (7-2-10-1 1-0-3-0 4-1-21-0 5-1-10-0 3.2-0-18-2), Hall 24-3-77-2 (w1) (7-1-23-0 4-0-18-0 9-2-25-0 4-0-11-2), Zondeki 1.5-0-10-0 (nb1) (one spell), Kallis 20.1-7-38-3 (nb1, w3) (5.1-1-13-0 13-5-18-3 2-1-7-0), Rudolph 2-1-1-1 (one spell).
South Africa - Second Innings
G C Smith lbw b Bicknell 14
H H Gibbs lbw b Kirtley 2
G Kirsten Lbw b Kabir Ali 60
J H Kallis c Stewart b Kirtley 41
N D McKenzie not out 17
J A Rudolph c Smith b Anderson 10
M V Boucher not out 2
Extras (b7 lb7 nb4) 18
Total (for 5, 62 overs) 164
Fall: 1-9 (Gibbs), 2-31 (Smith), 3-128 (Kallis), 4-139 (Kirsten), 5-160 (Rudolph).
To bat: A J Hall, M Zondeki, M Ntini, D Pretorius.
Bowling: Kirtley 14-6-28-2 (1nb), Bicknell 15-1-40-1 (1nb), Flintoff 10-3-20-0 (1nb), Anderson 11-4-25-1, Ali 7-1-24-1, Vaughan 5-1-13-0 (1nb).
Umpires: B F Bowden (New Zealand) and S J A Taufel (Australia).
TV Replay Umpire: P Willey (England). Match Referee: R S Madugalle (Sri Lanka).