Advantage South Africa after hosts' top order stumbles
Australia 3 for 111 (Cowan 49*, Morkel 2-25) trail South Africa 450 (Kallis 147, Amla 104, Pattinson 3-93) by 339 runs
Scorecard and ball-by-ball details
A day that meandered through its first two sessions after the fashion of South Africa's batsmen became positively lively as Australia's batsmen first stumbled then counter-attacked against Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel.
The vulnerability of the Australian top three had been widely noted, and they were guaranteed a torrid introduction to this series from the moment Ben Hilfenhaus deigned to pitch repeatedly short when bowling to his opposite numbers.
Replying to 450, a tally reached with less aggressive intent than might have been expected after the second day was lost completely to rain, Australia were in all kinds of bother at 3 for 40 as Steyn and Morkel took advantage of flawed judgement from David Warner, the debutant Rob Quiney and Ricky Ponting. But the opener Ed Cowan and the captain Michael Clarke then responded to their adverse circumstances with plenty of verve, ensuring an unhappy entry to Test bowling for Rory Kleinveldt and leaving the hosts in better shape at 3 for 111 when stumps arrived.
They had one major reprieve in the day's penultimate over when Cowan's glove tickled a Morkel delivery angled down the leg side from around the wicket. The umpire Asad Rauf was not convinced by South Africa's appeal, and their referral of the decision failed to pass the first hurdle when the third umpire Richard Kettleborough deduced a no-ball. It was a desperately close call, and may yet prove a critical one for Cowan and Australia.
South Africa had earlier had a chance to shut out Australia from the match, but from an imposing 3 for 374, the visitors had lost 6 for 76 in the face of improved bowling. Jacques Kallis' innings was astute and efficient until its final ball, but his departure stripped South Africa of the batsman who struck the best balance between attack and defence. AB de Villiers, Jacques Rudolph and Vernon Philander all soaked up a lot of balls for few runs, allowing Australia to feel more confident of their bowling even as the tally crept towards 450.
Facing up to a second new ball that had been due since Friday, Hashim Amla and Kallis began carefully, as Hilfenhaus and James Pattinson found a far better length than they had on the first morning. Amla was particularly reserved, but on 99 lashed out at Pattinson and the boundary sliced through gully had him saluting a third hundred against Australia in as many Tests.
Amla's celebration was muted, his intent to go well beyond the century mark, but on 104 Siddle pinned him on the crease with a delivery seaming back. Australia's appeal was beseeching, Rauf's finger was raised, and Amla exited without calling for a review. Had he done so, the decision would have been reversed, as ball tracking showed a path going over the stumps after Amla was struck on the knee roll.
Kallis reached his century by pushing Hilfenhaus through midwicket, and continued to bat with unhurried insouciance. At one point he shaped to avoid a Pattinson bouncer before waving his bat at it as he crouched, but it was a rare lapse. Nathan Lyon delivered a teasing spell in the 45 minutes up to lunch, finding turn as well as bounce, and encouraged Clarke to keep him on for an extended residency through the afternoon.
Kallis' progress to 150 seemed straightforward when the day resumed, until Pattinson extracted some extra bounce to force an airborne forcing stroke that skewed to an alert Rob Quiney at gully. In his next over Pattinson struck again, de Villiers playing another over-eager forcing stroke that was pouched at point by David Warner.
Rudolph and Philander then engaged in a diffident partnership that reaped only 26 runs in a little more than 12 overs, leaving many to wonder what South Africa's innings goal had become. Philander ultimately fenced at Peter Siddle and snicked the first slips catch of the match, before Rudolph was done in the air by Lyon and collected at cover.
Steyn might have joined them in falling lbw, but unlike Amla his decision to refer Rauf's verdict from Hilfenhaus' bowling found the ball passing well over the top of the stumps. His and Morkel's exits after tea followed a lively 15 minutes in which Kleinveldt struck a pair of sixes and Hilfenhaus did his best to discomfort South Africa's spearheads.
He peppered Steyn with short balls, including one that struck him a painful blow on his bowling shoulder. Morkel received similar treatment, and it was soon apparent that this passage had largely served to add fire - if any more was needed - to the South African bowlers.
Presented with a little less than a session to bat, Australia's initial response was poor. Warner never convinced, as he could make very little of his first few deliveries from Philander before pushing at a swift Steyn offering angled across him and edging into the slips cordon. Quiney's first ball brought an unflustered pull shot, but his second brought an edge at catchable height through a vacant fourth slip, and his reluctance to let the ball go was clear.
Morkel was brought on for Philander, and in his first over Quiney hooked unwisely, arrowing a catch to Steyn on the fine leg rope. Steyn tossed the ball in the air while he ensured he would not step over the boundary, and completed the catch before pumping his fist as though the wicket was his own.
Ponting's stay was briefest of all. Pushing out firmly at a Morkel delivery that could have been left alone, he offered a chance happily accepted by Kallis to drop Australia to 3 for 40. It was the sort of scoreline that had threatened to come to pass given the fragility of the hosts' batting, and had Clarke in to face a still-new ball despite his reluctance to expose himself to it at No. 3.
Through this period Australia's major source of sustenance came from Cowan. A target of much speculation before the match, he showed a simple but effective method, leaving the ball well, eschewing front-foot drives and leaning heavily on the pull and cut strokes. He showed a better balance between attack and defence than he managed at times in his first seven Tests, taking a particular liking to Kleinveldt's shortish length, and showed himself capable of matching wits with the bowlers who had so inconvenienced the rest of the top four.
Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here