Ben Stokes was on the verge of a first century since being appointed England's full-time captain as the hosts established a commanding advantage over South Africa in the second Test at Old Trafford on Friday.
England were 308-5 at tea on the second day, 161 runs ahead of South Africa's meagre first-innings of 151, with all-rounder Stokes 98 not out and wicketkeeper Ben Foakes, offering fine support, unbeaten on 61.
The pair had so far shared an unbroken stand of 161, having come together with England still trailing at 147-5 after fast bowler Anrich Nortje removed overnight batsmen Jonny Bairstow and Zak Crawley in a superb burst of two wickets for three runs in seven balls.
England, bidding to level this three-match series after a crushing innings and 12-run defeat in the first Test at Lord's -- their first loss following four successive wins under the leadership of Stokes and coach Brendon McCullum -- resumed on 111-3, 40 runs behind.
Crawley was 17 not out and Bairstow unbeaten on 38 after a top-order collapse had threatened to undo the good work of James Anderson, who took 3-32 on his Lancashire home ground, and fellow paceman Stuart Broad (3-37).
The veteran duo had made the most of helpful, overcast, conditions after South Africa captain Dean Elgar's decision to bat first backfired.
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Struggling opener Crawley had a lucky break on 24 when, after aiming legside against Nortje, a leading edge looped safely over point.
Nortje's speed eventually proved too much for Bairstow, out for 49, when he edged a reverse-swinging ball to first slip where Sarel Erwee, who has made a habit of juggling chances this series, clung on at the first attempt to break a stand of 91 with Crawley.
England then lost their fifth wicket when Crawley was caught behind after edging a fine Nortje delivery that moved late off the seam to end a determined innings of 38 off 101 balls.
By recalling Simon Harmer as a second spinner to their attack, in the hope the pitch at Old Trafford would offer more turn as the game went on, South Africa had almost been obliged to bat first upon winning the toss.
But at tea, off-spinner Harmer, a prolific wicket-taker with county side Essex, and slow left-armer Keshav Maharaj had combined figures of 0-107 in 35 overs.
Harmer's first delivery on Friday, a full toss, was stroked through the covers for four by Foakes and, three balls later, Stokes swept him for six.
Foakes was given out lbw on 28 to Maharaj's first ball Friday shortly before lunch but his review confirmed a sharply turning delivery had pitched outside leg stump.
Left-handed batsman Stokes, 34 not out at lunch, completed a 101-ball fifty when he lofted Harmer for six in classic style.
He was deceived by a well-disguised slower ball from fast bowler Lungi Ngidi, on 72, but Stokes's review revealed a clear inside edge after he had initially been given out leg before.
Stokes went into the 80s with a straight six off Maharaj, before Foakes completed a well-made fifty off 116 balls.
South Africa took the new ball as soon as possible, with England 288-5 off 80 overs, only for Stokes to then glance the next delivery, from Ngidi, for four.
But the second delivery with the new ball almost proved Stokes's undoing on 92 when a diving Aiden Markram at extra cover failed to hold what would have been a spectacular catch off a hard-hit drive.