Wobbly initially, South Africa later enjoyed some characteristic fight to achieve a competitive first-innings total and two quick breakthroughs on day one of the third and final Test against Australia in Perth.
Wobbly initially, South Africa later enjoyed some characteristic fight to achieve a competitive first-innings total and two quick breakthroughs on day one of the third and final Test in Perth.
Australia enjoyed the fruits of an all-new seam attack, with left-armers Mitchell Johnson and Mitchell Starc and right-armers Shane Watson and John Hastings doing the initial damage, before spinner Nathan Lyon resigned the Proteas to 225 all out.
The visitors, though, were prompt in their reply, as fast bowlers Dale Steyn and Vernon Philander reduced the opposition to 33 for two - a hefty 192 runs in the red ahead of a testing day two at the WACA.
Skipper Graeme Smith's decision to bat first was arguably the correct one, and a 38-run alliance alongside fellow opener Alviro Petersen certainly attested to the choice. A lethal return spell from Starc, a wicket each for Watson and Hastings, Johnson's brace and Lyon's belated contribution, however, begged to differ.
Too full and straight at the start, the Australian attack missed the services of the rested Peter Siddle and Ben Hilfenhaus and injured James Pattinson. Their replacements eventually found their collective groove.
Watson had Smith caught in the slips, Starc beat Petersen with some late in-swing an then castled Jacques Kallis, whose lack of footwork left a lot to be desired. Hashim Amla was the victim of a catastrophic run-out and AB de Villiers obliged debutant Hastings with his maiden Test wicket, after which another debutant in Dean Elgar perished for a duck to Johnson.
With the pre- and post-lunch theatrics in need of stemming, all-rounder Robin Peterson and Adelaide hero Faf du Plessis dutifully delivered to the tune of a 57-run alliance for the seven wicket. Du Plessis and the fit-again Philander later combined for 64 relatively quick runs for the eighth wicket.
Du Plessis, as was the case in the Adelaide, was again at the fore of the rearguard. Although not afforded complementary resilience by the tail-enders this time around, the talented right-hander top-scored for his 78 not out.
A tricky 11-over period was always going to be difficult to survive for Australia's top order, made even tougher by opener Ed Cowan's fall to Steyn for a first-ball duck. Having dropped Amla at midwicket earlier, Cowan was left to rue a day to forget.
Watson's return to three in the order didn't bring success. Surviving a big appeal for lbw from bowler Philander and company, the experienced right-hander was later given out in the wake of a successful South African referral.
The Proteas again deployed the Decision Review System accurately, with Watson's departure adding to Petersen and du Plessis' correct calls for the intervention of the third umpire earlier in the day.
Both sides fought tooth and nail on Friday, and the series decider is set for another intriguing weekend, when Australia's bid to clinch the number one Test ranking will face fierce competition from a South African unit eager to complete an unbeaten year.