Harry Finch produced an inspired spell of 3/7 in 6 overs to make England the more likely victors on the third day of the 1st Coca-Cola under-19 Test match at Sahara Park Newlands on Tuesday.
His wickets were all key ones and left South Africa struggling at 66/4 by the close of play, still needing a further 205 for victory on a pitch of increasingly variable bounce.
The match was, in truth, probably won for England on the first two days when they took a first innings lead of 119 runs.
The morning session saw neither side gain a significant advantage as England scored 55/2 to advance their overall lead to 198 runs with 8 wickets in hand.
But there was a huge momentum swing after the lunch break when England lost six wickets for 37 runs in 21 overs. This included the key wicket of opening batsman Dominic Sibley (62 off 154 balls with 7 fours and a six). The rest of the batting fell away much as it had done in the South African first innings after Murray Coetzee was dismissed for a half-century.
Shaylin Pillay, who has had to take on an extra bowling load following the injury to Craig Kirsten, started the collapse with two wickets in his first two overs of the session without conceding a run. He was well supported by fellow seamer Vincent Moore and left-arm spinner Michael Faasen.
England nevertheless reached the tea interval on 143/8 for an overall lead of 262 runs with four sessions left for play which suggested that the advantage was still slightly in their favour.
Ed Barnard, the centurion of the first innings was still at the crease, but he fell in the third over of the final session to give Lizaad Williams his first wicket of the innings. England were eventually all out for 151, setting up an intriguing fourth innings with South Africa needing 271 for victory in 123 overs.
Harry Finch produced an inspired spell at first change to put England right on top. Swinging the ball either way he took three wickets in three overs, trapping both Shaylin Pillay and Diego Rosier leg before wicket and having first innings top scorer, Murray Coetzee, caught in the slips.
That left South Africa wobbling at 34/3 with 14 overs left in the day.
Andries Gous and David Bedingham managed to steady the ship with a 31-run partnership before the latter departed courtesy of a brilliant leg-slip catch by Ben Duckett. The day ended with South Africa still needing 205 for victory on a pitch of increasingly variable bounce.