Australian captain Michael Clarke hit an aggressive century to cancel out some superb fast bowling by South Africa’s Dale Steyn on the first day of the first Test at Newlands in Cape Town on Wednesday.
Clarke hit 107 not out in an Australian total of 214 for eight, while Steyn proved a constant threat to the batsmen on a seam-friendly surface, taking four for 31. New cap Vernon Philander took three for 54.
Shaun Marsh was the only top order batsman to provide meaningful support to Clarke, making 44 and helping his captain put on 103 for the fourth wicket.
For the rest it was a struggle after Australia were sent in to bat on a day restricted by rain and bad light to 55 overs.
Clarke said he expected the ball to swing and seam throughout the match. He said he would have liked his team to have posted 300 but felt they remained in contention in the opening clash of a two-match series.
“We’re going to have to bowl well. If we hit our areas and hold our catches we’re in the ball game.”
Australia crashed to 40 for three before Clarke was the dominant partner as he and Marsh revived Australia’s fortunes. Marsh contributed only 27 of the 103 runs added by the pair but played a valuable supporting role while Clarke counter-attacked.
Graeme Smith’s decision to send Australia in quickly paid off as Steyn claimed the wickets of Shane Watson and Ricky Ponting, while Philander had Phil Hughes caught behind after rain delayed the start by almost two hours.
Steyn dismissed Marsh with the first ball of his third spell when he was called back for what proved to be the last over before tea.
Clarke was given a torrid time by Steyn at the start of his innings before going for his shots when Steyn was replaced by Jacques Kallis.
“I started horribly,” Clarke admitted.
“I couldn’t get my head out of the way and Steyn kept getting closer and closer to my head. Every hundred you get for Australia is special. It’s great to be able to score runs when the team is under pressure.”
The Australian captain scored 40 of the runs as the stand with Marsh became worth 50, reached 5000 runs in Test cricket when his score was on 44, and hurried to his fifty off only 56 balls with nine fours.
He maintained the pace despite losing Marsh, Mike Hussey and Brad Haddin before reaching his 16th Test century off 108 balls when he stroked Kallis through the covers for his 16th boundary.
The left-handed Marsh was tested with some short-pitched bowling early on but remained unruffled, collecting runs when the bowlers strayed in line or length in a 101-ball innings which included eight fours.
Marsh was trapped on his crease and given out by umpire Ian Gould. He asked for a review but it confirmed that Gould was right.
Earlier South Africa successfully sought a review when Ponting was given not out against Steyn by umpire Billy Doctrove.
Replays showed the ball would have hit his leg stump. Steyn admitted that he had not been enthusiastic about calling for a replay.
“I thought he hit it so I didn’t even appeal. Things happen pretty quickly when you run in and bowl as fast as you can.”
He said first slip Smith and wicketkeeper Mark Boucher were convinced there was no bat involved and had insisted on a review.
South Africa also had an unsuccessful review when Gould gave Marsh not out on 28 against Philander, the ball pitching outside leg stump.
“The conditions suited us,” said Steyn.
“We went for a little more than we wanted to with the run rate but if you asked us at the start of the day whether we wanted eight wickets we would have taken it.”
Philander, 26, was one of two new caps, with South Africa also selecting Pakistan-born leg-spinner Imran Tahir, 32. Tahir did not look threatening in his six overs, conceding 26 runs.
Australia first innings
S. Watson c Kallis b Steyn 3
P. Hughes c Boucher b Philander 9
S. Marsh lbw b Steyn 44
R. Ponting lbw b Steyn 8
M. Clarke not out 107
M. Hussey c Boucher b Morkel 1
B. Haddin c Prince b Steyn 5
M. Johnson c Morkel b Philander 20
R. Harris c Morkel b Philander 5
P. Siddle not out 0
Extras (b5, lb3, nb3, w1) 12
Total (8 wkts, 55 overs) 214
Fall of wickets: 1-9 (Watson), 2-13 (Hughes), 3-40 (Ponting), 4-143 (Marsh), 5-158 (Hussey), 6-163 (Haddin), 7-202 (Johnson), 8-214 (Harris)
Bowling: Steyn 14-4-31-4, Philander 16-2-54-3 (3nb, 1w), Morkel 13-2-58-1, Tahir 6-1-26-0, Kallis 6-0-37-0
To bat: N. Lyon.
South Africa: Graeme Smith (capt), Jacques Rudolph, Hashim Amla, Jacques Kallis, AB de Villiers, Ashwell Prince, Mark Boucher, Dale Steyn, Morne Morkel, Vernon Philander, Imran Tahir.
Toss: South Africa
Umpires: Billy Doctrove (WIS), Ian Gould (ENG)
TV umpire: Billy Bowden (NZL)
Match referee: Roshan Mahanama (SRI)