Shaun Marsh celebrated his recall with a classy unbeaten hundred as Australia finished day one of the first Test against South Africa well on top at 4-297.
Marsh remains unbeaten on 122, while Steve Smith is 91 not out and has been equally impressive.
The duo saw off eight overs of the second new ball and looked largely untroubled against the Proteas’ pace guns.
Playing his first Test in over two years and hobbling at times, Marsh was deployed at No.4 in a reshuffled batting order and had little time to prepare after the tourists were sent in on a bouncy Centurion pitch.
Australia lost both openers in the first hour of play on Wednesday, with Marsh entering the fray at 2-24 after JP Duminy snatched a diving catch at short leg to remove Chris Rogers.
Debutant Alex Doolan and Michael Clarke were dismissed either side of lunch, but Marsh was magnificent as he and Smith snatched back the ascendancy in an unbeaten 199-run partnership.
Marsh and Smith first made their names as whackers of the white ball, and their immense Twenty20 worth was ratified shortly before play commenced when they fetched a combined $A1.1 million at the Indian Premier League auction.
But on Wednesday it was vintage Test cricket.
Good balls were left, while boundaries were generally dispatched not with brutal force but exquisite timing – none more so than a straight drive from Marsh to a docile Dale Steyn delivery in the 60th over.
South Africa’s spearhead Steyn lacked nothing in effort.
But having bowled only 15.5 competitive overs since December due to a fractured rib, and understood to be unwell due to a stomach bug, he was well down on pace.
The 30-year-old nonetheless finished the pick of the Proteas’ bowlers with figures of 2-54 and the scalps of Clarke and David Warner.
Marsh and Smith feasted on the spin of Robin Peterson, as Warner had intimated in the lead-up to the game.
Steyn and beanpole Morne Morkel, whose towering frame made him menacing on this track, had dried up the runs in the second session when Graeme Smith threw the ball to Peterson.
Marsh and Smith danced down the wicket with ease and grabbed 22 runs from four Peterson overs before Smith withdrew the left-arm finger spinner from the attack.
Smith then preferred the gentle offspin of Duminy when he next turned to a tweaker, in the 63rd over.
Marsh, who brought up his ton off 174 balls by clipping Duminy to the leg side, wasn’t without some luck.
On 12 he benefited from a tough chance that Hashim Amla put down at gully off the bowling of Morkel, while Peterson went within centimetres of reeling in a spectacular catch in the covers when Marsh was 57.
His only nervous 90s moment came when a Ryan McLaren delivery rocketed off the pitch and struck him on the hand, but the edge fell short of the slips cordon.
SCORE: Australia 4-297
MAN OF THE MOMENT: SHAUN MARSH. Jetlagged and nursing a sore stomach muscle, the 30-year-old silences the many who doubted his Test temperament and right to be recalled after modest first-class returns.
KEY MOMENT: Marsh is on 12 and cuts a wide ball to gully where an outstretched Hashim Amla gets one hand to the leather but can’t hold onto what would have been a spectacular catch. Marsh has since added 110 runs (and counting).
STAT OF THE DAY: Shaun Marsh’s unbeaten 122 at Centurion was the highest score by an Australian No.4 batsman against South Africa since Neil Harvey’s 190 in Sydney in 1953.
SUMMARY: Things looked gloomy for Australia when they slumped to 4-98 with the loss of the side’s best batsman Michael Clarke. But Marsh and Steve Smith steadied the side’s cause with a restrained partnership.
QUOTE OF THE DAY: “I am pretty tired. I think I will sleep alright, it was quite hot out there,” STEVE SMITH on the prospect of a restless night in the nervous 90s.
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