David Warner dazzled, Michael Clarke consolidated and Australia dominated day one of the Test series decider against South Africa.
The tourists were 3-331 at stumps on Saturday in Cape Town, with Dale Steyn’s hamstring injury and the absence of a front-line spinner further stacking the deck against the Proteas.
Clarke (92 not out) won the toss for the first time this series and it paid big dividends as Australia made their brightest start with the bat since rocketing to 3-343 against England at Old Trafford last August.
With the exorcising of both Newlands nightmares and first-innings frights, Australia will only have themselves to blame if they don’t record a victory that would mean a first Test series win on foreign soil since April, 2012.
If the Proteas slump to their first Test series loss since 2009, skipper Graeme Smith will feel much responsibility after dropping Clarke on 26.
The hosts would have found Warner’s explosive innings of 135 just as unpalatable as his controversial remarks about their reverse-swing bowling in the second Test.
Warner, criticised by Smith and punished by both the ICC and Australia for suggesting his side should ask the umpires about the legality of wicketkeeper AB de Villiers’ treatment of the ball, continued the form of his life.
The 27-year-old scored 12, 115, 70 and 66 in his previous four innings but benefited from five dropped catches spread across the past two Tests.
On Saturday there were no lives as he charged toward a seventh Test ton in 104 balls.
The part-time spin of JP Duminy triggered his downfall early in the final session, when de Villiers needed two grabs to complete a catch.
Steve Smith (50 not out) and Clarke steadied in a 114-run unbeaten partnership, which included six overs of the second new ball.
After 11 fruitless innings and with the series on the line, Clarke found runs at the best possible time and silenced the sold-out venue.
In the second session, spectators were baying for blood as Morne Morkel bounced the stoic skipper to hell and back.
Clarke was struck on the elbow and helmet and went within a whisker of being dismissed on a handful of occasions.
The rattled 32-year-old was regularly checked by doctor Peter Brukner and physio Alex Kountouris, but found a way to survive the pressure and put Australia in the box seat for a win.
Steyn suffered a hamstring strain and failed to return to the field after being unable to complete his 11th over.
The Proteas are hopeful he will bowl again in the match.
With just one wicket per session on day one, they desperately need him.
The tourists needed 43 balls on Saturday to reach a total of 0-47, the same number of runs they were skittled for in the second innings of the 2011 Test at the same venue.
Australia selectors dropped Shaun Marsh and Peter Siddle for Shane Watson and James Pattinson.
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