Kevin Pietersen had a frustrating first morning as England captain as South Africa reached 64 for one at lunch on the first day of the fourth and final Test at the Oval on Thursday.
The only wicket to fall was that of Neil McKenzie, who was caught by Alastair Cook at third slip off Andrew Flintoff after he and Graeme Smith put on 56 for the first wicket.
But it could have been much better for England if Cook had held two earlier chances.
The match got off to a dramatic start when South African captain Smith cut the first ball from recalled fast bowler Steve Harmison straight to Cook at gully but the fielder could not hold a sharp head-high catch.
Harmison bowled impressively and gave both Smith and Neil McKenzie problems on a pitch with more pace and bounce than those on which the first three Tests were played.
After Smith's let-off there were two delays for injuries in the first over, Smith needing to recover after edging a delivery into his abdomen protector, then England wicketkeeper Tim Ambrose for a cut in the mouth when a ball exploded through his gloves.
Smith survived a second, much more difficult chance when a diving Cook at third slip got his fingertips to a ball edged by Smith on 24 from Flintoff and he was unbeaten on 40 when an early lunch was taken after rain started to fall 15 minutes before the scheduled interval.
Leading 2-0, the South Africans have already wrapped up their first series win in England since 1965.