Joe Root credited England's bowlers for their evening-session fightback after South Africa had threatened to take complete command of the fourth Test on day one at Centurion.
With the series already beyond them following defeat in Johannesburg last time out, the Proteas reached stumps on 329-5 on Friday having elected to bat.
However, their close-of-play total represented something of a missed opportunity, given that centuries from debutant Stephen Cook (115) and Hashim Amla (109) had seen South Africa reach 237-1 shortly after tea.
Having been below par for much of the day, England hit back by taking four wickets for 36 runs before Temba Bavuma (32 not out) and Quinton de Kock (25 not out) steadied the ship.
"It was a great comeback from our lads," said Root. "We missed our lengths at times, especially early on, but the way we fought back and came into the game was a really good effort.
"The start of that last session is our benchmark for tomorrow [Saturday] morning."
Cook and Amla shared 202 for the second wicket as England's attack - featuring Chris Woakes in place of the injured Steven Finn - toiled.
"We weren't at our best in that first session," Root added.
"Even though they've got fantastic records, our bowlers are human. They do make mistakes and the most important thing was how we came back and reacted."
The only wicket for England in the first two sessions came courtesy of another remarkable catch at short-leg from James Taylor, who was responsible for two stunning grabs during South Africa's second innings in Johannesburg.
On this occasion, Taylor was able to trap the ball between his legs after Dean Elgar (20) had got an inside edge aiming a heave at Moeen Ali.
Root said: "From where I was standing it did look a bit bizarre where he plucked it from, but the reaction from him was brilliant. You look at people standing at short-leg and when someone runs down the wicket not many players go with it.
"The first reaction is to drop your head or try and get out of the way. Credit to him for the work he puts in during practice."