Compton and Taylor counter Steyn's fired-up return
England 179 for 4 (Taylor 70, Compton 63*, Steyn 3-29) v South Africa
Scorecard and ball-by-ball details
The opening day of the series in Durban started and ended with Dale Steyn's vein threatening to pop through his neck, but England did not allow the world's No. 1 bowler or team to overwhelm them. Two of their inexperienced top order responded with impressive resilience as Nick Compton, on his return to the Test side, and James Taylor produced sturdy half-centuries in a fourth-wicket stand of 125 as England closed on 179 for 4.
Steyn, who had not bowled competitively since November 5 when he was injured in India, won an early head-to-head when he removed Alastair Cook for a duck and, after a break in play for rain and a threat of lightning, debutant Alex Hales edged behind for 10. He then returned in the dying moments of the day to find Taylor's edge and give South Africa the lift they desperately needed but Compton, in the city of his birth, remained unbeaten on 63 from 179 deliveries alongside Ben Stokes.
When Joe Root was lbw to Dane Piedt's first delivery, England were 49 for 3 with their two most prolific batsmen removed and South Africa sensed an opening into a batting line-up that has struggled to put consistently big totals on the board but it took them another 45 overs to break through. However, the pitch did not offer the pace or movement that had been expected when Hashim Amla won the toss and unsurprisingly, given the overhead conditions, decided to bowl, while a wet ball was not ideal.
Between them Hales, Compton and Taylor have just 15 Test caps so to see two of them combining for a restorative stand of considerable authority will have been a confidence-building sight for the England dressing room early in the series where both sides have question marks over the vulnerabilities of their top orders.
Compton's edge was found early by Steyn but it fell short of Stiaan van Zyl at first slip; AB de Villiers may consider it was one he could have dived for. There was then a scampered single to get off the mark, but in defence he was solid and he left well. He also showed a keenness to get forward whenever possible - a sign of the lack of pace in the surface - and his cover drive was in good order even though a few picked out the fielders. A very significant fifty came from 145 deliveries, soaking up the pressure but, tellingly, never allowing the scoreboard to seize up.
Taylor, who returned to the side with a half-century against Pakistan in Sharjah, made his Test debut in the infamous Headingley Test of 2012 when Kevin Pietersen plundered a thrilling 149 against South Africa, amid his disintegrating relationship with Andrew Strauss and the England dressing room. On that day, Taylor became almost the forgotten half in the 147-run stand with Pietersen but the 2015 version was very much a proactive partner this time and his fifty required 87 balls
Five of his boundaries came off Piedt who he played superbly to ensure the offspinner could not quite maintain the holding role that Amla wanted while he also pulled Dean Elgar for six. He was rarely troubled by the quick bowlers to provide further evidence that he is now a player primed to take a second chance at Test cricket he has waited more than long enough for. The forecast is for clearer skies from the second day onwards, and Kingsmead is a ground where looking up as often as important as looking down, so Taylor's late loss was a blow for England but there is a deep batting line-up to come.
Play was delayed for half an hour by morning drizzle which followed significant overnight rain in Durban. Cook, with four quicks at his disposal although not the injured James Anderson, would likely have bowled first as well but it was England's new-look top order that was handed the initial challenge under moody skies.
One of the pre-series talking points has been how ready Steyn would be for his Test return. He could not squeeze in any cricket before the series and has previously started series slowly after lay-offs. He probed outside Cook's off stump with the England captain initially showing good judgement before being drawn into pushing at one angled across him that nipped away with the edge carrying comfortably to Elgar at second slip. Steyn had claimed the first honours in his battle with Cook, for whom this was his first Test duck since facing Australia, at Perth, in late 2013.
The early wicket meant that England's re-jigged top three had lost their figurehead, leaving Hales and the Compton to try and repel South Africa in challenging conditions. Hales had managed to settle his nerves when he was off the mark first delivery he faced in Test cricket as he clipped Kyle Abbott through square leg and was largely secure during the half an hour before play was suspended
Rumbles of thunder followed by rain sent the players from the field and shortly after the resumption Hales was rumbled when he was drawn into playing a delivery he should have left. Root, as ever, began with a positive intent, played a classy back-foot drive against Morne Morkel then pulling Abbott into the stand at deep midwicket only to fall to Piedt's first delivery, which turned significantly. Root called for a review but both the point of impact and the ball hitting the stumps were umpire's call.
Amla had said Piedt's selection ahead of a fourth quick in Kagiso Rabada was very much with conditions later in the match under consideration and the early turn suggested spin could yet play a part. The wicket of a recent world No. 1 batsman was a wonderful way for him to start the series, but as Amla tried to juggle his resources with the appearance of a couple of part-time bowlers there was a feeling that things had not quite gone to plan.
Andrew McGlashan is a deputy editor at ESPNcricinfo