After 16 innings without a half-century, Crawley’s 57 not out means what might have been a potentially tricky fourth-innings target of 130 in a low-scoring third Test should be safely negotiated on Monday.
England reached 97 without loss – they need just 33 more runs for a 2-1 series win – before bad light brought an early finish 23 minutes before the scheduled 7pm close, prompting some boos in the crowd.
While Lees grew in fluency and ended the day on 32 not out, the out-of-form Crawley helped get England off to a flyer, riding the bounce in Kagiso Rabada’s second over, dispatching him for back-to-back fours.
He needed just 36 balls to reach his 50 and there was a sense he could get England over the line on Sunday night – and bring about effectively a two-day Test after Thursday’s washout and Friday’s play being called off in memory of the Queen – but England, to their chagrin, were kept waiting.
England’s seamers had earlier capitalised on lavish movement although they were unwittingly given a helping hand by South Africa captain Dean Elgar, who neglected to review an lbw verdict against him, with replays showing Stuart Broad’s delivery would have whistled past leg-stump.
Elgar therefore became Broad’s 564th Test victim, which moved him ahead of Australia great Glenn McGrath and into fifth in the all-time list of wicket-takers in the longest format.
It was nevertheless an improved batting display from South Africa, who had careered to 36 for six a day earlier, as Elgar and Sarel Erwee came through a searching examination with both edges challenged.
There were scoring opportunities, though, with James Anderson and Broad untypically expensive before lunch, prompting Stokes into bowling duties for the first time in the Test. He found joy in his first over, angling one across Erwee, who departed for 26 after a tentative push was taken low at first slip.
While Anderson and Broad were again initially wayward upon the resumption, there was much more sideways movement on offer under cloud cover. Even so, they had a gift from Elgar, who survived two hopeful lbw appeals from England before the umpire raised his finger from the third after Broad bowled fuller.
Pinned on the front pad, Elgar began trudging off for 36 before the umpire had finished raising his finger but replays indicated the ball would have missed leg stump.
Perhaps with Elgar’s non-review in the back of his mind, Ryan Rickelton queried being given out after playing all round another length ball from Broad but this was plumb and he was on his way. In-between, Anderson, who leaked eight runs in six overs after lunch, found the edge of Keegan Petersen for 23.
Wiaan Mulder was pushed up to number six, above Kyle Verreynne, and resisted alongside Khaya Zondo for 14.2 overs but Ollie Robinson returned to the attack to snare both. Mulder was cramped for room and cut on to his stumps for 16 while another inswinger led to Zondo being given lbw as he shaped to leave.
Stokes blotted his copybook by overstepping as Jansen edged into the cordon but made amends with a devilish inswinger through the gate as South Africa lost their sixth wicket of the session. Finishing the over after tea, Kagiso Rabada thick-edged to Harry Brook to give Stokes a double-wicket maiden.
Broad and Anderson returned to claim a wicket each as South Africa subsided with a notional 35 overs left on Sunday as England ended the day how they started it: by batting.
It was a largely fruitless endeavour earlier as they lost their last three wickets inside the first quarter of an hour, Robinson and Jack Leach perishing to Rabada before Ben Foakes steered to third slip off Jansen, who claimed a deserved maiden Test five-for as England were all out for 158 in 36.2 overs.
It was exactly the same length as South Africa’s innings but England made 40 more runs, which were swiftly knocked off by Elgar and Erwee before the hosts’ fast bowlers and then Crawley and Lees took centre stage.
Unless weather intervenes or South Africa stage a terrific comeback, England will claim a sixth Test home win this summer. The last time they did so was in 2004.