South Africa took a grip on proceedings after winning the toss and making full use of overcast conditions during the morning session at Lord's. Kagiso Rabada, having been passed fit to play, removed both England openers during his first spell, before Marco Jansen and Anrich Nortje added to South Africa's dividends.
Dean Elgar cited the "overheads" for his decision to ask England to make the running with the bat for the first time this summer (all four of the Tests won under Ben Stokes' captaincy have been based on a template of chasing a target in the fourth innings). His seam attack then responded with the perfect blend of skill and aggression to leave England five down and wobbling, despite a proactive half-century from Ollie Pope.
Elgar had announced in his final press conference before the start of the series that he was "not going to entertain" any more talk of Bazball - as England's new approach to Test cricket has been dubbed - and the focus quickly became how Stokes' team might tailor their preferred batting style to setting up a game in the face of a probing examination from South Africa's four quicks.
Rabada, who had strained the medial ligaments in his right ankle earlier in the tour, was on the mark from the outset. Alex Lees got away with one ambitious swipe that flew over the slip cordon but fell in the same over, wafting away from his body to be caught behind.
Zak Crawley, retained as Lees' opening partner despite averaging 17.75 from four previous Tests this summer, did his best to negotiate a thorough examination around off stump, largely packing away his aggressive strokes. But having squirted a thick outside edge through gully for a second boundary, he was undone by Rabada's wobble-seam delivery, which produced just enough movement to find the edge and present a low catch to the cordon.
South Africa lost a review when asking for a second look at Lungi Ngidi's lbw appeal against Pope, but things continued to go their way when Jansen struck in his second over. Having declined another lbw shout that ball-tracking showed would have just clipped the top of Pope's leg stump, Nitin Menon raised his finger in the affirmative to the politest of appeals against Joe Root. DRS returned a verdict of umpire's call and England's former captain, who scored 190 on his previous outing against South Africa at Lord's, was on his way.