Port Elizabeth, South Africa: South Africa found some solace on a sleepier seaside pitch to reach 145-3 at tea on the first day of the second test against Australia on Thursday.
The South Africans didn't completely subdue left-arm quick Mitchell Johnson but they found the going much easier at St. George's Park after their first-test nightmare.
Faf du Plessis and Dean Elgar made half-centuries and Elgar was 61 not out after his late promotion to open in place of Alviro Petersen, who was ill.Du Plessis was out to spinner Nathan Lyon for 55, but his 112-run stand with Elgar lifted the South Africans from 11-2 early on when Ryan Harris and Johnson initially pounced on a shaky buildup by the home team, which was uncertain of its lineup until just before the toss.
Earlier Australia's fast bowlers put South Africa under early pressure at the start of the second test as the home team battled to 64-2 at lunch on Thursday after being in near-disarray and struggling to name a team before the toss.
Ryan Harris and Mitchell Johnson had a wicket each to turn the screw on the South Africans at 11-2 in the sixth over, but Dean Elgar and Faf du Plessis saw the Proteas to the break with an unbroken half-century partnership.
Harris had captain Graeme Smith lbw for 9 and Johnson removed Hashim Amla, also lbw, for a duck under thick cloud cover at St. George's Park after South Africa decided to bat first and face up to the lethal form of Johnson.
The pitch in Port Elizabeth wasn't as threatening as the surface in Centurion that Johnson exploited for his career-best 12 wickets in Australia's big win in the first test, but run-scoring also wasn't easy on the first morning in overcast and gloomy conditions. The floodlights were on from the start of the day's play.
South Africa was in a shambles before the start after opening batsman Alviro Petersen was ruled out overnight with illness and bowler Vernon Philander had to complete a fitness test on a tight right hamstring minutes before the toss. Philander came through the test to be picked, with skipper Smith completing his team list out in the middle with a pen and paper seconds before winning the toss and opting to bat first.
The home team ultimately made three changes, two of them forced. Batsmen Elgar and debutant Quinton de Kock came in for Ryan McLaren, who has concussion, and Petersen. Allrounder Wayne Parnell replaced spinner Robin Peterson. Australia went with the same 11 that hammered the top-ranked South Africans by 281 runs over the weekend for a 1-0 series lead in the three-match contest.
Upbeat after a dominant win in that first test, Australia had early success in the second game when Harris got a delivery to seam off a fairly grassy pitch to trap Smith on the back pad. Johnson also got swing and a little seam movement to remove Amla, with the South African No. 3 facing just two balls.
Opener Elgar was 23 not out but took 20 balls and 42 minutes to make his first run. South Africa's 50 came up off an outside edge from him that dropped just short and wide of wicketkeeper Brad Haddin and went through the slips. Elgar did hit a six off spinner Nathan Lyon, but boundaries were rare in the first session as the South Africans ground their way to lunch on a sluggish pitch that made timing shots tough. Du Plessis was 26 not out with two fours.
Harris had 1-10 and Johnson 1-15.