South Africa were set a massive target of 492 to win the third Test after England declared their second innings on 313 for eight shortly before tea on Sunday's fourth day at The Oval.
The most any side have made to win in the fourth innings of a Test is the West Indies' 418 for seven against Australia at St John's in 2003.
And the largest fourth innings total in 99 previous Tests at The Oval remains India's 429 for eight in 1979, when a double century by Sunil Gavaskar so nearly saw the tourists to victory before they just fell shy of a target of 438 in a thrilling draw.
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Sunday saw England debutant Tom Westley compile a maiden Test fifty before captain Joe Root made exactly 50 and Jonny Bairstow followed up with a run-a-ball half-century on his way to 63.
South Africa left-arm spinner Keshav Maharaj took three for 50 in 13.5 overs before his dismissal of Bairstow prompted Root's declaration.
England and South Africa are level at 1-1 in this four-match series.