South Africa kept Australia's big three of Steve Smith, David Warner and Shaun Marsh in check on the opening day of the four-Test series on Thursday. Australia was 225/5 at stumps at Kingsmead in Durban after Smith and Warner made half-centuries and Marsh 40. None of them went on to big scores, though, giving South Africa reason to be positive.
Smith made 56, his fifth straight score of 50 or more in Test cricket, but his fall to spinner Keshav Maharaj before tea was the biggest moment of the day. Considering Smith's most recent scores against England in the Ashes - 239, 76, 102 not out, and 83 - getting the best batsman in the world out for a mere 56 felt like an early victory for the South Africans.
Smith's exit, celebrated exuberantly by Maharaj and South Africa skipper Faf du Plessis, followed Warner's dismissal for 51 from the last ball of the first session. Marsh also fell to Maharaj nine overs after Smith, giving the spinner 2/69 and underlining that the slow bowlers may have a bigger say on a sluggish surface after much of the pre-match focus was on the two sides' fearsome fast-bowling attacks.
Mitchell Marsh was 32 not out and Tim Paine with him on 21 when an early stumps was called for a bad light, a regular occurrence at Tests on South Africa's East Coast.
There were half-century stands for Australia between Smith and Warner and Smith and Shaun Marsh, but South Africa ended them before they got out of hand. Mitchell Marsh and Paine had put on 48, improving Australia's position from 177/5.
Still, Australia, flying high off the 4-0 Ashes rout of England where Smith averaged 137, Shaun Marsh 74 and Warner 63, was probably slightly disappointed with its start considering the benign pitch, which led Smith to happily bat first after winning the toss.
Smith's partnership with Warner was worth 56 after Australia started slowly and was 15/1 and 39/2. Cameron Bancroft, in dire form, was out first to Vernon Philander for 5, edging behind to wicketkeeper Quinton de Kock. Usman Khawaja (14) fell in Kagiso Rabada's first over, also caught by de Kock, this time a diving grab to the 'keeper's left.
Warner was caught off a flying outside edge to AB de Villiers at slip the last ball before lunch, giving Philander his second wicket of the session and South Africa the first momentum of the contest, which is the first time South Africa and Australia have contested a four-Test series since 1970. Warner had hit six fours when he was cramped for room and nicked to de Villiers, who fell back as he took the catch around chest-high.
Smith's dismissal ended a 51-run stand with Shaun Marsh. Smith sent an outside edge past gully and to the boundary for his first four and hit 10 more fours.
But he tried to cut a ball from Maharaj that was too close to him. A thin edge deflected up off de Kock's gloves and was caught easily by de Villiers at slip.
Shaun Marsh survived an lbw appeal on 19, with replays showing he was out after the umpire turned down South Africa's shout. However, the home team had no TV reviews left after using both and losing them, in the first session.
Marsh did go, though, off an outside edge to de Villiers at slip off Maharaj.
In the morning, Smith won the toss and opted to bat first in the series-opener, with Australia comfortable enough to keep the same team that beat England by an innings in the final Test of the Ashes. South Africa brought in Theunis de Bruyn at No.7 to bolster its batting lineup against Australia's feared fast bowlers of Pat Cummins, Mitchell Starc and Josh Hazlewood.