England were one for none, needing a further 473 runs to reach their victory target of 474, at stumps on the third day of the second Test against South Africa at Trent Bridge on Sunday.
Alastair Cook and Keaton Jennings were both nought not out, with England’s lone run in a tricky four-over spell before the close a leg bye.
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, Antigua, in 2003.
South Africa declared their second innings on 343 for nine.
Hashim Amla top-scored with 87, opener Dean Elgar made 80 and returning captain Faf du Plessis 63.
Off-spinner Moeen Ali took four for 78.
England lead the four-match series 1-0 after a 211-run victory in the first Test at Lord’s last week.