England took advantage of winning an important toss at a cloudy Lord's to restrict South Africa to 220 for eight in the fourth NatWest Series match.
As in their victory at The Oval two days ago, off-spinner James Tredwell (three for 35) and all-rounder Ravi Bopara proved to be among the hosts' most effective bowlers.
On a pitch offering turn and occasional variable bounce, they gave themselves an obvious chance of a successful chase but not one which yet represented a foregone conclusion.
A 10.15am start increased the significance of the toss, in a series level at 1-1 with two to play between the world's top two teams. Openers Hashim Amla and Graeme Smith were required to be conservative - and after three wickets then fell for the addition of only 15 runs in the middle overs, more caution was necessary from 115 for four in the 29th.
AB de Villiers and Dean Elgar could therefore not avoid to be flashy either, their half-century stand spanning a batting powerplay which brought just 24 runs in an innings that went 13 overs without a boundary.
Amla was yet again the scourge of England's bowlers, and fielders, on his way to South Africa's modest top score of 45. England dropped the prolific batsman for the sixth time this summer, on four, when Tredwell failed to hang on to a sharp chance away to his left at second slip off Steven Finn.
But after Smith had edged an attempted pull at Jade Dernbach behind - to end a stand of 68, and ensure Tredwell did not pay too dearly for another drop at slip - Bopara twice took the fielders, and the umpire, out of the equation. He swung one back between Amla's bat and pad, to beat the attempted drive, and hit off-and-middle - and then had Faf du Plessis chopping on for just a single.
In between, number three JP Duminy was deceived by Tredwell as he went out of his ground, failed to cover the turn and was easily stumped. Tredwell and Craig Kieswetter eventually accounted for De Villiers too, overstretching as he attempted a drive into the offside.
With South Africa's likeliest lad therefore gone at the very start of the last 10 overs, off-spinner and wicketkeeper then made Wayne Parnell another stumping victim. They became the first to record that hat-trick of dismissals for England in one-day internationals as Tredwell made up generously for his earlier catching lapses.
Kieswetter and James Anderson ought to have run Robin Peterson out for just a single - and although he made them pay with some late invention, South Africa had to settle for what looked an under-par total.