Based on a career-best century by Aiden Markram, the Proteas closed day one in a powerful position against Australia at 313-6 on day one of the fourth Test at the Wanderers.
But the beleaguered and weakened tourists, reeling from the ball-tampering scandal which saw captain Steve Smith, David Warner and Cameron Bancroft sent home, drew some comfort with the dismissal of AB de Villiers and nightwatchman Kagiso Rabada shortly before the close.
Stumps were drawn with the Proteas well above the first-day average of 246-8 for day one at the Wanderers, even though they lost a powerful weapon in De Villiers who, on 69, got a faint inside edge to give Chadd Sayers his first Test wicket, five overs before the close. Rabada followed two balls later as the pitch started to exert an influence.
While not in as strong a position as when they were at 247-2, the Proteas can still be satisfied with a good day’s work and with Temba Bavuma looking solid on 25 and Quinton de Kock on seven, they still have the potential to build a substantial score.
The foundation was laid by Markram, who went to his Test best of 152 off 216 balls with 17 fours and a six; a strike rate of just over 70.
It was his fourth century in 10 Tests, to go along with three fifties, beating the 143 he scored against Bangladesh. He was looking in superb form, as highlighted by the sublime drive through the covers which brought up his 150, only to prod a catch to Mitchell Marsh at gully as he tried to steer a delivery from Pat Cummins to third man.
The early wickets lost were more down to pilot error than an overtly aggressive attack from the Australian seamers, of whom Cummins was the most threatening.
In the second session, he had snapped up Hashim Amla, who played a loose shot to be well taken at second slip before striking out Markram. The next ball, he was gifted the wicket of Faf du Plessis, who misjudged the movement off the pitch to shoulder arms and be trapped plumb lbw.
Cummins’ hat-trick ball to De Villiers, an excellent full-length delivery, jagged away to beat the bat and that was that.
The momentary hopes of Australia to break back into the game were undermined by De Villiers and Bavuma, who had a partnership of 52 at almost 4.5 an over.
Nathan Lyon was the only other bowler to strike. He was brought on in the 16th over, and immediately got turn with the bounce. In his second over, Elgar seemed to be caught in two minds, offered a leading edge and chipped to mid-off after contributing 19 to an opening stand of 53.
Cummins, though, lacked support from the other pacemen. Sayers, making his Test debut for the injured Mitchell Starc, lacked his swing and pace to offer any great threat until his persistence, over 26 overs, paid off late in the day.
South Africa 313-6 (1st innings): Aiden Markram 152, AB de Villiers 69; Pat Cummins 3-53, Chadd Sayers 2-64.
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