Elgar shines but Australia hold the edge
South Africa 214 for 5 (de Villiers 51*, Duminy 2*) v Australia
Scorecard and ball-by-ball details
The opening day at St George's Park was less traumatic for South Africa than the four in Centurion as Dean Elgar shone on his return to the side, but loose strokes in the evening session left them vulnerable. They avoided the sort of performance that could have handed the series to Australia on a plate - and which threatening to develop during a rough first half an hour - only to slip as the light faded on an overcast day to close on 214 for 5.
A third-wicket stand of 112 between Elgar and Faf du Plessis provided the cornerstone of the innings. However they will rue the strokes played by Elgar who, having fought for nearly five hours and 193 balls, tried to clear the in-field against Nathan Lyon and then debutant Quinton de Kock who became the latest batsman to fall to a Steven Smith full toss. AB de Villiers, the only batsman to counter Australia in the first Test, remained unbeaten 51 as he made it a world record of 12 consecutive Tests with at least a half century.
South Africa have lengthened their batting order for this Test - Elgar was in line for a recall and de Kock was called in when Alviro Petersen was ruled out ill - so they still have the chance to post something around 350 and challenge Australia with scoreboard pressure which has been rare in the last few months.
The opening exchanges did not bode well for South Africa. The lead-up to the toss was chaotic with uncertainty over Vernon Philander's fitness to go alongside the three team changes. Some hasty scribbling eventually put Philander on the team-sheet, but it was perhaps no surprise that Graeme Smith departed early when he played around a full, swinging delivery from the probing Ryan Harris on a muggy morning.
In the next over, from Mitchell Johnson, Hashim Amla was firstly beaten by a ball that swung in from outside off and then trapped lbw by another delivery that did the same but had been pitched straighter. It gave Johnson his 50th Test wicket since the beginning of the Ashes and few would have bet against him quickly adding No. 51, but that is not how the day unfolded.
Elgar was still on nought by the time Smith and Amla departed. On his only previous appearance against Australia, on his debut in Perth, he bagged a pair and it took him 20 deliveries and 43 minutes for him to score his first run against this opposition.
However, during that wait to open his account he had not appeared ruffled. His composure was further evident when he slog-swept Lyon for six to register his first boundary and he later deposited the offspinner straight down the ground. Between those grand shots there was good judgement around off stump, the occasional punchy cover drive, plenty of nudges into the leg side and no little bravery as he was willing to take blows around the body from Johnson.
There was also the occasional edge - when he was 15 a combination of soft hands and the slow pitch meant a nick fell short of Brad Haddin - but, by and large, he was in control as he brought up a 112-ball half-century.
Du Plessis played equally impressively and it was he who eased the early shackles imposed by Australia's bowlers with a brace of cover drives off Peter Siddle. He, too, used his feet against Lyon and shortly after lunch clipped him over deep midwicket for six.
Two boundaries in three balls against Johnson, the second a well-controlled pull, took him to his fifty from 117 balls but he fell moments later to the curse of the drinks break when he prodded forward against Lyon and popped a catch to short leg. A soft dismissal which emphasised the absence of the ruthlessness with the bat that characterised South Africa's rise to No. 1
However, it had been a rare occasion of Australia having to work for a wicket: this was only the second century stand they have conceded since the beginning of the Ashes. The other belonged to Kevin Pietersen and Joe Root during the second innings in Adelaide. Their bowling rarely wavered and Johnson remained a threat despite the slowness of the pitch.
Without Shane Watson's medium pace, the value of Lyon in keeping the scoring rate down and chipping key wickets was priceless for Michael Clarke. He continued to use Harris and Johnson in short spells, and both were primed for late bursts before the light closed in. Moments earlier Smith had done his job when, in a first over the largely consisted of long hops and full tosses, de Kock came down the pitch to a one that did not land and heaved an ugly mow to mid-off.
De Villiers reached his half-century from 124 balls - an indication of how hard the batsmen were made to work - when he pulled another half-tracker from Smith. That was enough for Clarke who, when told he could not use his quicks, was content to leave the field. South Africa know what will hit them in the morning.
Andrew McGlashan is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo