Spectators who arrived at the Gabba in record numbers for a non-Ashes Test might have expected fire and brimstone from the Australian fast bowlers and plenty of chatter from their slips cordon. Instead the most resonant noise of the day was the repeated clunk of ball on the bats of Hashim Amla and Jacques Kallis, as South Africa capitalised on a mediocre display from the hosts' attack to waltz to 2 for 255 by the time bad light brought an early close.
Losing only the captain Graeme Smith and his fellow opener Alviro Petersen all day, the visitors gave Michael Clarke's men the sort of lessons in concentration and crease occupation they had dealt so mercilessly to England earlier this year. Amla's typically cultured innings took him to 5000 Test runs more swiftly than Ricky Ponting had once managed, and Kallis played with the familiar combination of discipline and power that has served him grandly for near enough to 15 years. Together they laid bare the vulnerability of an Australian attack with only four specialist bowlers.
That Michael Hussey and the debutant Rob Quiney were both called upon before the tea break reflected how slim Clarke's options became. Ben Hilfenhaus, James Pattinson and Peter Siddle failed to use the new ball adequately on a surface that, while tacky and slowish, did offer enough movement to beat the bat if the ball was landed with precision.
But apart from a brief spell either side of Smith's pre-lunch wicket, in which Pattinson and Siddle found the ideal length and line to cause discomfort, no batsman was unduly troubled by pace, Hilfenhaus lacked the incisiveness and variation on the bowling crease he showed last summer, despite tidy figures. Nathan Lyon gained disconcerting bounce at times and his flight caused Petersen's downfall, but South Africa's batsmen ensured he was unable to settle into a rhythm by taking him for five runs per over.
Nonetheless, the day might have ended differently had Siddle not slipped up against both batsmen in the final session. Kallis had 43 when he miscued a pull shot to mid-off, only for Asad Rauf's check on the bowler's front foot to reveal a no-ball had been delivered. On 74, Amla pushed a return catch that Siddle would have taken last year when so much seemed to work for him, but this time it fell to ground.
Australia's indifferent start seemed at least partly driven by nerves at facing up to the world's top-ranked team at home. Hilfenhaus and Pattinson were too short and too straight in the early overs, allowing Smith and Petersen the chance to tuck several deliveries away to the legside. The home side's over-excitement was best conveyed by a frivolous decision referral when a Hilfenhaus delivery brushed Smith's pad on the way through to Matthew Wade down the legside, leaving them with only one more for the remainder of the innings.
As he often did last summer, Siddle showed the way by bowling a little fuller and extracting some more deviation from the surface. With the last ball of the innings' 10th over he fizzed one past Petersen's bat on the ideal length, and Pattinson paid attention.
Swung around to the end from which he nipped out five New Zealand batsmen in the second innings of the corresponding Test last year, Pattinson's first ball of a new spell straightened on off stump to Smith, who looked palpably lbw. The umpire Billy Bowden was unconvinced, but an incandescent Pattinson encouraged a referral that had Bowden's finger belatedly raised.
Lyon's introduction revealed plenty of bounce and some turn on the first morning, but Petersen and Amla showed plenty of attacking intent to keep the spinner from settling. Amla advanced to crash a straight six, and by lunch was looking every bit as ominous as he had in England.
The early overs of the afternoon unfolded carefully, Australia trying to tighten up and South Africa unwilling to surrender their advantage with undue haste. It was Petersen who seemed in the greater hurry, and his aggression would result in Australia's only wicket of the session.
Reverting to round the wicket, Lyon looped the ball nicely, and Petersen found himself short of the pitch when he tried to muscle down the ground. Hussey accepted the catch, and at 2 for 119 Clarke's side had the glimmer of an opening.
It was soon shut by Kallis, who was swiftly into his stride with attractive drives and one ungainly but effective pull beyond wide long-on for six. Lyon was being taken for around five runs per over, but he created as much doubt in the batsmen's minds as any of the pacemen, who struggled to find the right length on a consistent basis.
When they did, the ball could still beat the bat, but the sight of both Hussey and the debutant Quiney at the bowling crease before tea on day one of the series was not an encouraging portent for the hosts. Siddle's missed opportunities in the final session sapped the energy of the fielders, and the wait for the second new ball seemed interminable.
By the time it arrived, the umpires deemed the light to be too poor for it to be delivered safely, leaving Amla and Kallis to walk off. They have given South Africa the best possible start, and Australia a sobering reminder that far higher standards will be required to seriously challenge the world's best.