LONDON: England slumped to 16 for two at close of play against South Africa at Lord's on Sunday, as their pursuit of 346 to win the third and final test and square the series started badly.
Jonathan Trott was six not out in 54 arduous minutes and Ian Bell had four, after openers Alastair Cook (3) and Andrew Strauss (1) both fell lbw to Vernon Philander.
England, who need a further 330, were given a minimum 103 overs to register what would be their highest fourth innings score to win a test, and also the most on the ground.
Only West Indies have managed 300 or more (344 for one in 1984) in the fourth innings to win a Lord's test. So history is against England, who must win if they are to draw the series 1-1 and prevent South Africa from taking the world number one ranking from them.
"Of course we are thinking of winning," South Africa's Hashim Amla told reporters, after scoring his 16th test century. "Fortunately we managed to take two wickets which has put us in a good position, but it will still take a lot of hard work. If we show the intensity we showed tonight, it should help.
"To score above 300 (in the fourth innings) is a very difficult ask," he added. "We have been in that situation before. In fact anything over 250 is difficult."
However, England fast bowler Steven Finn, who took for four for 74, was optimistic about the team's chances despite the uphill task.
"As a team collectively over the last number of years, we've enjoyed breaking records and defying people's beliefs against us," Finn said.
"So tomorrow, we've got a 15-over old ball to bat against - which isn't going to do as much as a new ball, obviously.
"We've got a great opportunity to assert ourselves on the South Africans early - and we really do believe in the dressing room that we can win this game."
It was the worst possible start for England and Strauss, whose 100th test appearance was memorable for the wrong reasons.
While his team were battling to stay in the match, his faltering off-field relationship with batsman Kevin Pietersen was being debated in the media.
Cook departed to the eighth ball of the innings as Philander shaped it back into the left hander.
Umpire Simon Taufel made the right call and Cook did not bother to review. Neither did Strauss, who played no stroke to another delivery moving into him.
South Africa were bowled out for 351 in their second innings in the evening session of the fourth day, as Amla made an assured 121 and ensured England's target was a stiff one.
England did have opportunities to finish the innings sooner.
AB de Villiers was dropped by James Anderson at short midwicket off Graeme Swann when on eight, and went on to score 43. Had de Villiers been taken, the score would have been 177 for five.
Amla was dropped on two by wicketkeeper Matt Prior the previous day.
Even when England threatened to end the innings sooner through a decisive burst of fast bowling by Finn, who claimed three wickets for 14 runs in 29 balls, the Proteas always hit back.
Amla was eventually bowled by Finn when the ball held its line up the famous Lord's slope.
De Villiers went next, edging to Strauss at first slip. That meant Strauss became England's highest test catcher as a fieldsman with 121.
Jacques Rudolph was the third of Finn's strikes, edging to Prior for 11.
That was the time when England needed to be ruthless and end the innings. But along came JP Duminy (26 not out) and Philander (35) to put on 54.
It was the second occasion in the match that both had held England up after they each made 61 in the first innings.