Centurion: A latecomer to the tour, Shaun Marsh made a timely unbeaten half-century to lead Australia out of trouble against South Africa on the first day of the opening test on Wednesday.
Having initially been left at home because of a calf injury, and then recovering and arriving just in time to be picked for the first test, Marsh was 67 not out at tea to lift Australia to 176-4 and swing the momentum toward the tourists at SuperSport Park.
Australia was 24-2 when Marsh walked out and 98-4 when captain Michael Clarke fell to a short-ball trap for one of two wickets for Dale Steyn (2-34).
Marsh survived a dropped catch on 12 and another near-miss with a lofted drive just over the infield, but was still there at the end of the second session to edge Australia ahead after the South African quick bowlers' early strikes.
Marsh shared partnerships of 48 with debutant Alex Doolan (27) and an unbroken 78-run stand for the fifth wicket with Steve Smith, who was 29 not out.
Marsh's rebuilding effort came after Australia was put in by South Africa captain Graeme Smith on a pitch the skippers had differing opinions on. Smith believed there was more than enough in the Centurion track for his fast bowlers, while Clarke said Australia would have batted first anyway.
In effect, both captains got it partially right as top-ranked South Africa found the early progress it wanted and No. 3 Australia the stability later on after battling through the tough early spells.
On the first day of a series hyped up by the highly rated fast-bowling attacks of both teams, South Africa's seamers had early success and Steyn and Morne Morkel (1-35) initially vindicated their captain's decision with the wickets of openers David Warner and Chris Rogers for 24-2 in the ninth over.
Warner made a typically bullish start by punching two fours through the offside, then chopped a Steyn delivery onto his stumps on 12 attempting another attacking shot.
Rogers was hit by a bouncer on Morkel's first delivery and next ball popped up to short leg, where JP Duminy made a diving one-handed catch and sent the opener back for 4.
Doolan, striding in for his first test innings with his team under early pressure, found his range with five fours and forced the South Africans to bring Ryan McLaren into the attack, the home team's replacement for recently retired allrounder Jacques Kallis. Only, approaching lunch and in the midst of a promising debut, Doolan hit a powerful pull off a tempting short ball from McLaren at short midwicket to Robin Peterson, who caught it two-handed and diving to his left.
Struggling slightly with a stomach bug, Steyn picked up his second when he set up Clarke with a couple of short balls just after lunch and the Aussie skipper eventually went for one and was caught at fine leg by Vernon Philander to bring Smith out to join Marsh.
They attacked cleverly, targeting spinner Peterson for two lofted fours over his head in one over, and also pouncing on wayward short balls from the quicks.