Steyn fires but Australia A show fight
Australia A 7 for 325 (Quiney 85, Doolan 76*, Smith 67, Maxwell 64, Steyn 3-43) v South Africans
Two century stands denied the South African attack the chance to live up to their reputation as the world's best. Australia A chose to bat on a green-tinged but slow pitch at the SCG and survived an early wobble and a quartet of batsmen - Rob Quiney, Steve Smith, Alex Doolan and Glenn Maxwell - went on to score half-centuries.
The South Africans rested both Morne Morkel and Jacques Kallis because they had both played continuous cricket since the July tour to England and their absence showed somewhat. The numbers accurately reflected the degrees of performance. Dale Steyn was the best bowler by some distance, and moved the ball well to show no signs of having not played first-class cricket since August.
Rory Kleinveldt backed him up well with decent pace and Vernon Philander was mostly consistent, although he had no reward. Imran Tahir though, lacked discipline in some instances and was expensive early on. As a unit, the much vaunted attack did not click as they may have wanted to, especially after a first glance at the pitch.
The South African bowlers would have built up a good appetite when they saw the green on the track but they soon discovered it was about as tasty as a glass apple. Instead of offering pace and bounce, it was fairly lifeless and there was little assistance.
Steyn showed that he can perform in spite of that with a blistering spell up front. He built up a head of steam to go with his swing and the wicket of Liam Davis seemed inevitable. It was a classic Steyn delivery that pitched on middle and off and then jagged away to beat the bat and hit the top of off stump.
With much attention on Phillip Hughes, especially after his success against South Africa in 2009, he had a tentative start. He survived an appeal for caught behind off Steyn when he was on 1 but added only four to his score before engineering his own demise. In frustration, Hughes slashed at ball from the newcomer Kleinveldt and dragged the ball back onto his stumps.
With the intention of giving the Test bowlers as many overs as possible,Tahir was brought on in the 10th over. The move may have raised eyebrows but Tahir enjoyed some early success. His top-spinner had Andrew McDonald lbw for a duck and Australia's top order were shot out with 49 on the board. McDonald's phrase about them being "crash test dummies" appeared to be coming true.
But not for too long. Quiney watched the damage from the other end and sedately built what began looking like an impregnable fortress. He showed weakness once, when Philander induced the edge but the ball fell short of Smith at first slip, an indication of the lack of carry. Apart from that one lapse, Quiney was strong on the front foot and drove confidently on the off and on sides and Steve Smith's sprightly innings helped him take Australia A to lunch on 3 for 89.
But the South African attack was made to work hard after the break. Every time Philander's length veered on the side of just a little too full, Quiney drove him to the boundary. On an outfield that would not look out of place on Bondi beach, Quiney timed his shots to perfection, particularly the one through mid-on which took him to his half-century.
Smith executed the pull well and Tahir was the bowler who took most of a pasting. He erred on the side of too short, too often as he searched for wickets. Smith took boundaries off him at will but reached fifty with a scampered second run.
With the partnership growing, Graeme Smith turned to his go-to man to get a wicket. He brought back Steyn and the strike bowler struck. Quiney hit Steyn for four through mid-wicket and looked destined for three-figures but two balls later, the edge carried. Smith took a low catch to stop Quiney's charge and one wicket soon brought another.
Smith was Tahir's second lbw victim when he played across the line and the South Africans had two new batsmen at the crease. Moises Henriques may have had a point to prove after his recent good form but seemed to think he was still at the Champions League T20 after tea. He reached for a loosener from Kleinveldt and was caught behind. The next ball, Kleinveldt had an lbw shout against Glenn Maxwell but it looked to be going down leg. Kleinveldt thought he had another wicket when AB de Villiers appealed for a catch and Alex Doolan tucked his bat under his arm and started to walk off. Kleinveldt joined in late and the umpire did not give him out.
That was all the luck Doolan and Maxwell needed. As the afternoon drew long, they went on to make the South Africans' experience even longer. The pair scored mostly off JP Duminy and Philander and were untroubled but for the chance Maxwell offered Tahir. He hit the ball back to the legspinner, whose outstretched fingers could not grasp it.
Maxwell and Doolan reached their fifties off back-to-back deliveries and the South Africans had to wait for the new ball to break their 133-run stand. Steyn had Maxwell caught behind in his third over with the second nut, as the batsman tried to guide the ball past gully. Doolan continued to the close and finished day with Tim Paine and a personal milestone in sight.
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent