England take charge of SA at Kingsmead

While no blood has yet been drawn in this Test series it appears that only the home side risk having theirs spilled as we move towards the business end of the Durban battle.

England well and truly have the match by the scruff of the neck after three days of play, as they lead by 261 runs with seven wickets in hand.

The visitors sit pretty on 172 for three steadily batting South Africa out of the game as they steadily built on their substantial first innings lead of 89.

A reported shoulder injury to Dale Steyn, who managed only three and a bit overs, further compounded the dispirited home side's troubles.

With every run added after South Africa were bowled out at lunch, the Proteas heads and shoulders dropped a little further towards the green Kingsmead turf.

The South African team looks highly likely to increase by at least one their tally of consecutive Tests without a win to seven, and that is fairly unfamiliar territory for a team that is so desperately clinging onto their mantle as the world's best Test team.

The only silver lining in the dark cloud surrounding the SA dressing room is that Dean Elgar (118 not out) put together a gutsy and unbeaten hundred – his fourth in his Test career – as he carried his bat and kept his head while all about lost theirs.

Besides for de AB de Villiers' score of 49, however, there was not a single contribution worthy of merit in a South African innings that all but floundered.

Moeen Ali (four for 69) bowled expertly in the morning session and acted as an effective catalyst in the operation of wrapping up South Africa's innings after Stuart Broad (four for 25) snaffled Temba Bavuma with the second ball of the day.

JP Duminy's continued rut in form would stand out more obviously if he were the only batsman short of runs in the side but the fact that he hasn't managed a half-century since August 2014 against Zimbabwe, is a bogey that he will be desperate to shake.

England picked up the bat for the second time with an air of confidence and, although it will be of concern that Cook (7) failed again to make runs, the rest of the top order made hay while the sun shone on a dry pitch that creates chances but is playing well.

Alex Hales (26) struggled to really get going but survived over 100 deliveries as he felt his way around the middle.

Nick Compton (49) looked nearly as settled as he did in the first innings and was a tad unlucky to be caught glancing Morkel down leg side, off the middle of the bat.

Joe Root (60 not out) and James Taylor (24 not out) increased the scoring rate in the final hour and have given England a very real chance of setting South Africa a 400-plus target long before tea on the penultimate day.

The hosts might have little option but to try and bat out a Houdini-esque draw.

With Steyn unfit to bowl, part-timers like van Zyl, Elgar and Duminy were called to turn their arms over as Amla sought to preserve the bodies of his two remaining seamers.

After all, there only two days of travel and rest in between this battle and the second Test, at Newlands on 2 January.

South Africa will rue missed opportunities as they board the bus back to their hotel in the luxurious beach side suburb of Umhlanga and take stock of several chances, including three or four dropped catches behind the wicket.

The Boxing Day Test in Durban is historically a happy hunting ground for England and the administrators might well regret moving the fixture back up the coast from Port Elizabeth.

One mustn't forget the English have been spilling blood in Kwa-Zulu Natal for 130 years.

Nick Sadleir at Kingsmead

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