Vice-captain Joe Root hailed England’s fighting spirit after they overcame an indifferent start to peg South Africa back in the final session on day one of the fourth and final Test against South Africa at Centurion.
Cook and Amla, joined at the crease after James Taylor took another fine short-leg catch to dismiss Dean Elgar, dominated the opening two sessions with a stand of 202 that moved the score to 237 for one.
The tourists fought back admirably in the evening, though, with Amla, De Villiers, Cook and JP Duminy all departing for addition of just 36 runs.
An unbroken sixth-wicket partnership of 56 between Temba Bavuma and Quinton de Kock kept England at bay late on, but Root was pleased to limit South Africa to 329 for five following their early inconsistencies.
The Yorkshireman told ecb.co.uk: “It was a good pitch but if we are brutally honest we were not at our absolute best, as we have for most of this series. That can happen sometimes in Test cricket.
“I think the way we came back and the way we approached that last session was a really good effort from all the guys.
“Now having taken those wickets, hopefully tomorrow morning we can do something similar. If we can bowl them out for 400, on what looks to be a good wicket, then we are right in the game.
“The guys were trying really hard, sometimes it just doesn’t go for you. It was just really important that everyone in the field were backing the guys up who had the ball in their hand.
“It was a great effort in those last couple of hours, a benchmark for tomorrow morning.”
Did Root offer any advice to his bowlers?
“I wasn’t saying much,” he revealed. “Cooky was trying to help out when he could.
“We have got an experienced attack so they know what they are doing out there. Hopefully tomorrow we can take those early wickets and get right on top again.”
Taylor ensured England made one early breakthrough with another brilliant piece of fielding at short-leg.
Having pouched two difficult chances in Johannesburg in that position, the 26-year-old was at it again today when he flung himself at an aggressive leg-side swipe from Elgar and somehow held on after the ball cannoned off his chest and wedged between his legs.
“I was quite far away, but it was a phenomenal bit of work,” Root said.
“The way he followed him down the wicket, there was obviously a bit of luck involved as well sticking where it did, but he has taken some ridiculous catches already this series. Hopefully he can take a couple more.
“I’ve spent a little bit of time in there, it is not always the nicest place to be. For him to watch the ball for as long as he does is a big skill and it takes a lot of heart.
“Good on him, he deserves all the credit he gets because it is not a nice position to field in at times.”
The way Cook and Amla applied themselves during the first two sessions suggests the pitch is perfect for batting.
And Root said: “The most important thing is when we get out there and bat we make sure we assess the conditions well, we apply ourselves, get those big partnerships and get up to and past their score.”