South Africa hit back with three wickets in quick succession as they started to justify captain Graeme Smith's decision to field in the first Test against England at Lord's here Thursday.
England, at tea on the first day, were 163 for three.
They had been 114 without loss, following a stand between left-handed openers Andrew Strauss and Alastair Cook which saw both batsmen play some fine shots as well as survive the odd scare.
But England then lost three wickets for three runs in 13 balls to be 117 for three as the Proteas, on a pitch that appeared to be getting quicker as latent moisture evaporated following Wednesday's persistent rain.
Kevin Pietersen, playing his first Test against the land of his birth, was 13 not out having narrowly avoided being run out while still on nought before being hit on the head by a Dale Steyn bouncer.
Ian Bell, off the mark with a textbook cover-driven four off Morne Morkel, was unbeaten on 33 after staunching the flow of wickets with five boundaries in all so far in his innings.
England, 71 without loss at lunch, saw Strauss, in his 50th Test and on his Middlesex home ground, drive Morkel down the ground to bring up the century stand for the first wicket.
Cook then completed a 92-ball fifty with nine fours.
But Strauss, typically strong square of the wicket, fell just short of the landmark. The Johannesburg-born batsman had made 44 in nearly three hours when he was lbw to Morkel.
Replays suggested the ball may have just pitched outside leg-stump but, with Strauss moving across his crease, Australian umpire Daryl Harper didn't take long to give him out.
But there was absolutely no doubt about the next wicket when a full, 88mph delivery from Steyn beat Michael Vaughan's attempted defensive stroke and knocked back the England captain's off-and-middle stumps, the Yorkshire batman out for just two.
Then five balls later, 117 for two became 117 for three when a short ball from the 6ft 6in Morkel proved too hot for Cook to handle.
Trying to turn it legside, Cook succeeded only in spooning a gentle catch to AB de Villiers in the slips and was out for 60.
Much hype has surrounded Pietersen's debut Test innings against the Proteas following his longstanding criticisms of the South African cricket system made after he turned his back on the country in protest at a racial quota system he said was hampering his progress.
His remarks had proved a particularly sore point for Smith, labelled a "muppet" in Pietersen's autobiography.
South Africa nearly had the England wicket they crave above all others when Pietersen, off his second ball, set off for a highly risky single only for Makhaya Ntini's throw from mid-on to miss the stumps with the batsman well short of his ground.
England 1st Innings
|A. Strauss||lbw||b Morkel||44|
|A. Cook||c de Villiers||b Morkel||60|
|M. Vaughan||b Steyn||2|
|K. Pietersen||not out||13|
|I. Bell||not out||33|
|Total||(3 wkts, 54 overs, 241 mins)||163|
Fall of wickets: 1-114, 2-117, 3-117
To bat: P Collingwood, T Ambrose, S Broad, J Anderson, R Sidebottom, M Panesar
South Africa: Graeme Smith (capt), Neil McKenzie, Hashim Amla, Jacques Kallis, Ashwell Prince, AB de Villiers, Mark Boucher (wkt), Paul Harris, Morne Morkel, Makhaya Ntini, Dale Steyn
Toss: South Africa
Umpires: Daryl Harper (AUS) and Billy Bowden (NZL)
TV umpire: Nigel Llong (ENG)
Match referee: Jeff Crowe (NZL)