South Africa on the ropes after Clark five-for
Australia entered the first Test with concerns over their fast bowlers, but South Africa's batsmen were the ones with problems on the opening day as Stuart Clark's five wickets on debut dropped them for 205. While much of the lead-up was spent wondering about the missing Glenn McGrath, Clark, a 30-year-old first-gamer, and Michael Kasprowicz, one of Mark Boucher's "Ashes rejects", were responsible for flooring the host's ambitious plans after winning the toss.
Clark's stunning welcome of 5 for 55 was the best by an Australian since Brett Lee's 5 for 47 against India in 1999-2000 and Lee's three wickets finished off the work his back-up bowlers had started. It was not a day for fluent batting and by stumps Australia had cut the deficit to 142 for the loss of Justin Langer for 16.
Langer escaped a caught-behind decision in the first over before leaving to a doubtful lbw to Andre Nel, and South Africa craved the tight and penetrative Shaun Pollock towards the close. A back injury forced Pollock out before play and his absence was a relief for Matthew Hayden, who strolled past Don Bradman's career tally of 6996 and 7000 runs in making 22, and Ricky Ponting (20). Australia coped brilliantly without their key man
Recovering from Sunday's unbelievable one-day demolition, the visitors found their Test groove much more quickly than the edgy batsmen and showed that at least in the short-term they could cope without McGrath. The true tests will come on pitches offering nothing and batsmen showing confident blades, but under bowler-friendly skies all the fast men gained considerable movement off the pitch. Nobody created more problems than Clark, who narrowly won his spot on a hunch ahead of Stuart MacGill. Australia guessed correctly and collected.
Religiously described as McGrath-like, Clark performed a perfect impression of the man Australia are desperately trying to replace after taking his baggy green from Merv Hughes. Three wickets before lunch, including the brilliant removal of Herschelle Gibbs's off stump, sparked contagious smiles from the Australians and he added Boucher and Nicky Boje to complete his haul. The only downsides of a remarkable entry were a dropped catch off Lee and being belted for a six by Andre Nel during a team-high last-wicket partnership of 32 that lifted South Africa above 200.
Kasprowicz had to wait three Tests for his first wicket in 1997, but Clark picked up his maiden dismissal - a vital one - after only nine deliveries. Held back until Andrew Symonds's had delivered an over of medium pace, Clark continued Graeme Smith's poor long-game run against Australia when he forced him to push forward on 19 and gave Adam Gilchrist an easy take.
After a superb wicket and the lucky one of Jacques Kallis, who cut a short delivery straight to Hayden at gully, Clark produced a sensational ball that nipped away to collect Gibbs and leave South Africa struggling on 61 for 4. The faith in the untried pairing of Kasprowicz, who collected 2 for 44, and Clark was shown when Ponting gave them long spells after lunch ahead of Lee and Shane Warne - the two big guns expected to fire while McGrath cares for his sick wife. Instead, the lesser lights combined for the first six wickets with the help of some sharp and clever catching.
At the other end Clark was running into a fresh breeze and doused Boucher's positive 16 with another fine leg-cutter that was accepted by an in-form Gilchrist, who dived low to his right. Clark's fourth wicket - and the team's sixth at 104 - was quickly followed by Lee's first, with another sharp Hayden catch ending Ashwell Prince's 17-run resistance.
The recovery was left to the lower order and Andrew Hall picked up 24 at No. 8 while Boje top scored with 31 and Nel (18) and Makhaya Ntini (17 not out) gave the home crowd some late fun. South Africa's batsmen found it hard to find the right tempo after such a short gap between the end of the one-dayers and the start of the Tests. The problem was expected to be more damaging for the Australians, but at the end of day one they had lost their worries and regained the momentum.
AB de Villiers b Kasprowicz 8 (24 for 1)
Off-cutter slipped through gaping bat-pad hole
Graeme Smith c Gilchrist b Clark 19 (42 for 2)
Thick edge pushing forward
Jacques Kallis c Hayden b Clark 6 (48 for 3)
Short ball cut hard to gully
Herschelle Gibbs b Clark 18 (61 for 4)
Off stump removed by a ball heading away
Jacques Rudolph c Gilchrist b Kasprowicz 10 (76 for 5)
Warne kicked up his first-slip fumble straight to Gilchrist
Mark Boucher c Gilchrist b Clark 16 (104 for 6)
One-handed take low down from another ball moving away
Ashwell Prince c Hayden b Lee 17 (124 for 7)
Playing off the back foot to gully
Andrew Hall c Hayden b Lee 24 (148 for 8)
Another fierce back-foot shot; taken low at gully
Nicky Boje lbw 31 (173 for 9)
Hit back thigh and question over height
Andre Nel lbw Lee 18 (205)
Yorker in front of middle
Justin Langer lbw Nel 16 (21 for 1)
Bowling around the wicket and heading over the stumps
Peter English is the Australasian editor of Cricinfo