London:Ian Bell fell agonisingly short of a double century at Lord's but his Test-best 199 left England in a commanding position against South Africa on the second day of their series opener on Friday.
The Proteas, when rain forced an early close, were seven without loss in reply to England's first innings 593 for eight declared, a deficit of 586.
South Africa captain Graeme Smith, who'd opted to field after winning the toss, was two not out and Neil McKenzie five not out.
Bell did something few England batsman have managed in recent years - upstage the South Africa-born Kevin Pietersen who earlier made 152 in his first Test innings against the Proteas.
His innings was all the more impressive as Bell had arrived at Lord's under pressure for his England place after making just 45 runs in his four previous Test innings and knowing Andrew Flintoff's return from injury was imminent.
But the 26-year-old, whose century was his eighth in 40 Tests, maintained the form he'd shown in making 215 for Warwickshire against Gloucestershire during a recent County Championship match.
England, who'd resumed on Friday on 309 for three with Pietersen 104 not out and Bell unbeaten on 75, started the final session on 535 for six.
Bell was then 171 not out and fast bowler Stuart Broad, belying his status as a No8, 54 not out.
Some of left-hand bat Broad's cover-drives off fast bowler Morne Morkel were worthy of his father Chris, the former England opening batsman.
For the second match in a row, the 22-year-old Broad posted a Test-best score, beating the 64 he made against New Zealand at Trent Bridge last month.
Together with Bell, he shared an England record seventh-wicket stand against South Africa of 152, overtaking the 115 put on Johnny Douglas and Morice (eds note: correct) Bird at Durban in 1913/14.
But on 76 he played round a straight ball from spinner Paul Harris, having faced 124 balls with 10 fours.
Bell went into the 190s with a cheeky reverse sweep four off left-armer Harris before two rain stoppages halted his innings.
In between the showers, Dale Steyn wastefully delivered several short balls at tailender Ryan Sidebottom but did not follow-up with a yorker or full-length ball.
It was an unintelligent effort from someone ranked the world's leading fast bowler and symptomatic of the Proteas' performance in the field on Friday.
Harris was booed by the crowd when he rubbed his hand in the dirt when it looked as if he was about to bowl.
Then whether through frustration or merely a mistimed shot, Bell became the seventh player in Test history and first Englishman to be out for 199 when he was caught and bowled by Harris off a checked drive.
England captain Michael Vaughan immediately signalled the declaration and that left South Africa needing 394 to avoid the follow-on in the first of this four-Test series.
Four members of the Proteas' five-man attack conceded over 100 runs.
The 6ft 6in Morkel, however, did take four wickets for 121 in his 34 overs.
Earlier, Pietersen's partnership of 286 with Bell, who'd come in when the hosts were in trouble at 117 for three, was an England fourth-wicket record against South Africa, surpassing the 197 shared by Wally Hammond and Les Ames at Cape Town in 1938/39.
Bell was equally comfortable against both spin and pace, lofting Harris for six over long-off and precisely cutting Morkel through the offside for four.
Arguably the best shot of his innings was when he forced Harris off the backfoot through the covers.
Bell completed his 150 in classic style by driving Steyn straight down the ground for four into the pavilion fence.
He then went past his previous Test-best of 162 not out against minnows Bangladesh at the Riverside three years ago with a cut four off Makhaya Ntini.
Hopes both England's centurions would bat through the morning session ended when Pietersen's gloved hook off Morkel was caught down the legside by wicket-keeper Mark Boucher.