London - Vernon Philander again proved a thorn in England's side as Alastair Cook
held firm against South Africa on Thursday's first day of the third
Test at The Oval.
LIVE: England v Proteas, Day 1
At tea, on a rain-marred day, England were 149 for four after winning the toss.
Former captain Cook was 72 not out after more than four hours at the crease.
Ben Stokes was unbeaten on 10 in what is the 100th Test at The Oval.
Philander, meanwhile, had superb figures of two wickets for eight runs in nine overs, despite a stomach bug.
That followed his man-of-the-match display with both bat and ball in South Africa's crushing 340-run victory in the second Test at Trent Bridge last week - a result that left the four-match series level at 1-1.
England had a setback soon after captain Joe Root won the toss and elected to bat despite the overcast conditions and green-tinged pitch that promised to assist the Proteas' pace attack.
The under-pressure Keaton Jennings was repeatedly beaten outside off stump by Philander and it was no surprise when the South Africa-born opener eventually edged the seamer low to Dean Elgar at third slip for a nine-ball nought.
Tom Westley, one of three debutants in England's XI, walked out to join Essex team-mate and mentor Cook with England 12 for one.
But he immediately looked far more certain of where his off stump was than Jennings.
The 28-year-old right-hander, given his chance after a finger injury saw the struggling Gary Ballance ruled out, got off the mark with a minimal risk leg side four off fast bowler Morne Morkel.
Westley, who earlier this season scored a hundred against South Africa for the second-string England Lions, then cover-drove and on-drove left-arm spinner Keshav Maharaj for two well struck boundaries in an over.
Left-hander Cook had made 28 when South Africa paceman Chris Morris appealed for lbw, but a review of umpire Joel Wilson's not out decision showed England's all-time leading Test run-scorer had got an edge.
England were 62 for one at lunch, with Cook 34 not out.
But Westley had added just one to his interval score when, four balls after the break, he edged a Morris delivery that curved away to South Africa captain Faf du Plessis at second slip.
It was the end of a promising innings of 25 and a second-wicket stand of 52 with Cook.
Star batsman Root then made 29 before he edged an excellent Philander delivery that moved away off the seam and was brilliantly caught one-handed by wicket-keeper Quinton de Kock, diving across first slip.
Kagiso Rabada, returning after being banned from the second Test for swearing at Stokes in the series opener at Lord's, then got in on the act.
The fast bowler produced a superb in-swinging yorker that knocked Dawid Malan, another of England's debutants, off his feet before crashing into middle stump.
Middlesex left-hander Malan, born in London but brought up in South Africa, was out for one and England were 120 for four, with the Proteas' hoping Rabada's animated celebrations did not contain any obscene words.