NatWest Series, Old Trafford: South Africa 227-3 beat England 223-7 by seven wickets
South Africa produced a fine overall performance to consign England to a comprehensive defeat under the lights in Manchester.
A match which rarely fizzed into life had an anticlimactic finish, with the result never in doubt for the final hour.
Jacques Kallis, with consecutive centuries already in the series, hit 82 not out on the night.
He put on an unbeaten 145 for the fourth wicket with the young left-hander Jacques Rudolph (79 not out).
Rudolph came in with the game still up for grabs but always handled the pressure well.
England never scored enough runs and were particularly poor at playing the South African spinners.
Having won the toss and elected to bat first, they had their moments in a fine partnership between Anthony McGrath and Marcus Trescothick.
But too many other batsmen failed and when it was their turn to bat, South Africa always looked warm favourites to win.
Trescothick (60) and McGrath (52) put on 114 for the third wicket - a record for England against South Africa.
And it came after Vikram Solanki and Michael Vaughan had fallen in the first few overs to leave England 7-2.
But when the two half-centurions were dismissed by the spinners, the innings lost momentum.
Andrew Flintoff and Jim Troughton both failed and the run rate was never good.
Troughton was particularly impotent. He crept to five off 22 balls before tamely chipping Makhaya Ntini to point.
At least Chris Read and Ashley Giles did some excellent work at the death to add 46 off just 34 balls and give the home team something to bowl at.
England hoped their spinners Vaughan and Giles would be as useful as Nicky Boje and Martin van Jaarsveld had proved on a pitch taking plenty of turn.
But that never proved to be the case.
England removed Herschelle Gibbs (run out) and Graeme Smith (bowled by James Anderson) cheaply.
But Andrew Hall began the recovery to hit 29 before being bowled by Flintoff, while Kallis and Rudolph were rarely troubled.
Many spectators left the ground well before the finish and the winning hit came in the 48th over.
England: MP Vaughan (capt), ME Trescothick, VS Solanki, JO Troughton, A Flintoff, A McGrath, CMW Read (wkt), RL Johnson, AF Giles, D Gough, JM Anderson.
South Africa: GC Smith (capt.), HH Gibbs, JH Kallis, JA Rudolph, M van Jaarsveld, MV Boucher (wkt.), SM Pollock, N Boje, AJ Hall, AC Dawson, M Ntini.