Cape Town - England took four wickets in the last session of day one to claw their way back into the fourth and final Test at Centurion on Friday, but it is still South Africa who have the advantage.
The Proteas had resumed after tea on 224/1, but finished the day 329/5.
AS IT HAPPENED: SA V ENGLAND DAY 1
Despite the final session setback, the day belonged to opener Stephen Cook, who became the sixth South African to score a century on Test debut.
Cook, who spent an hour in the 'nervous 90s' that saw him nearly run-out and also survive a tight LBW shout off Ben Stokes, was also the 100th player ever to get to three figures on Test debut.
With his father Jimmy watching on from the stands, Cook was organised throughout his knock as he waited patiently for loose deliveries that he dispatched to the boundary.
The 33-year-old was also dropped on 47 by Jonny Bairstow off Stuart Broad, but along with Hashim Amla he put South Africa in a commanding position heading into day two.
Cook and Amla shared a 202-run stand for the second wicket before Amla chopped a fullish delivery from Stokes onto his stumps when he was 109.
AB de Villiers was next in, and at that stage Cook was edging his way towards his ton rather nervously.
His mission wasn't made any easier when his captain was out for a two-ball duck - edging a Broad delivery to Joe Root at second slip.
Eventually Cook reached his century - off 187 balls - and then it was about rebuilding the South African innings with JP Duminy.
But the pair put on 33 for the fourth wicket before Cook, who had left with discipline outside off stump throughout his innings, went after one from Chris Woakes only to inside edge onto his stumps to be bowled for 115.
Temba Bavuma then came to the crease, but Duminy was out LBW for 16 shortly after when he tried to pull a Moeen Ali delivery that wasn't quite short enough.
Earlier, Dean Elgar had made 20 before a miraculous catch from James Taylor at short-leg saw him dismissed off the bowling of Ali.
Elgar had advanced down the track before making good contact as he looked to hit one through mid-wicket, but Taylor showed superb anticipation to throw himself in the way of the ball before it nestled in between his thighs as he claimed a quite bizarre catch.
At stumps Bavuma (32*) and Quinton de Kock (25*) had got things back on track for the home side with a partnership of 56.