Record backed choice to bowl - McLaren
Ryan McLaren, playing his first Test in four years, confirmed South Africa chose to field first given their record in Centurion and did not base the decision on the surface that was in front of them.
"The statistics going into the game say enough. Most of the Test cricket played at this venue, the team fielding first have ended up winning a high percentage of games," he said. South Africa have fielded first at Centurion 11 times in their history and won nine of those matches, compared to 14 wins out of 18 overall.
Graeme Smith was unsure what to do but the greenish tinge to the pitch convinced him to go with history, even though he also knew if the sun shone enough, the surface would flatten. McLaren admitted South Africa let Australia get away from them when that happened. "It was moving around a bit on the beginning but then it became slowish off the wicket. In the first hour we bowled well and we had an opportunity to make some inroads."
With Australia 98 for 4, McLaren wanted South Africa to push home the advantage but said Shaun Marsh and Steve Smith made that difficult. "They played really well. They had pretty much a chanceless partnership. Shaun adapted well and the longer he stayed there, the easier it became."
By the same token, South Africa did not make the necessary adjustments. McLaren explained that they needed "to err on the side of a fuller length" in the morning and then "pull it to back of a good length" later on as the surface became more sluggish.
He was one of the bowlers who got the first part of that right, bowling fuller earlier on. Overall, McLaren was satisfied with his own performance as he eased into his new role as South Africa's Test allrounder. "I started off all right but it became challenging going into the second and third session," he said. "I know I am going to have to do the hard work and the hard yards. When the wicket is flat my job to block up an end so that Dale and Morne and Vernon can strike."
While Dale Steyn is nursing an upset stomach, which prevented him from going at full throttle today, McLaren hoped he would have recovered by the morning. He is also banking on South Africa to stage one of their familiar comebacks. "Maybe we could have increased the intensity today but this team has shown its character in the past to bounce back the following day."
Australia have six wickets in hand and are already within a whisker of 300 runs but McLaren said South Africa have not set an upper limit for what they will aim to restrict Australia to. "We should not pinpoint any target," he said. "We will just try and build as much pressure as possible. We know they have a few dangerous batters to come."
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent