England went wicketless on the second afternoon in Cape Town, as an obdurate South African partnership, a Stuart Broad no-ball and an unlucky drop combined to frustrate the tourists.
Armed with a disappointing first-innings total of 269 – they lost their last wicket for the addition of just seven runs in the morning – England saw the Proteas reach 141 for three at tea.
South Africa had been 40 for three, with Broad and James Anderson taking early wickets, but Dean Elgar (77no) and Rassie Van Der Dussen (46no) halted the slide.
Elgar’s was an essentially chanceless stay, but England had several opportunities to open up the other end.
He was well on his way to the pavilion when replays showed the seamer had over-stepped and once again the wicket was scrubbed from the scorecard.
Anderson, who had been curiously withheld for the first hour of the afternoon session, saw Van Der Dussen edge fractionally short of slip and finally thought he had his man for 43.
Another thick edge was brilliantly intercepted by a diving Stokes, who clutched the ball one-handed only for it to squirm free as his arm hit the floor.
England’s 10th-wicket resistance was ended inside 15 minutes in the morning, Ollie Pope stranded on 61 after giving Anderson the strike against Kagiso Rabada to predictable effect.
Their total looked well short of competitive, a feeling that only gained traction as South Africa ticked off 18 in the first three overs.
Broad reclaimed the initiative swiftly and got just rewards for a consistently challenging six-over spell that proved too good for debutant Pieter Malan and Zubayr Hamza, who both fell for five fiddling outside off stump.
A fourth wicket would have made it a superb spell for the English attack and almost came when Van Der Dussen sprayed Anderson into the gap between second slip and gully.
Elgar almost lofted Dom Bess’ first ball to short-cover on 25 but that was the last real moment of discomfort in a disciplined knock.
Van Der Dussen was entirely less secure, riding his luck throughout the afternoon, but England’s inability to force open an end was beginning to look ominous.