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Warner, Smith fifties underpin close-fought day | Cricket Bats | Australia

Australia 225 for 5 (Smith 56, Warner 51) v South Africa
Scorecard and ball-by-ball details

It wasn’t exactly a whimper, but neither was it much of a bang. Perhaps low-key is the best way to describe the opening day of the series at Kingsmead. Durbanites didn’t flock to the venue, and what the vast majority of the city missed was a couple of half-centuries from Steven Smith and David Warner, a few fifty partnerships, five wickets, and a day that was shortened by 14 overs due to bad light. It was a day without a runaway winner, though South Africa will probably go to bed slightly happier.

Play ended with Australia on 225 for 5, with Mitchell Marsh on 32 and Tim Paine on 21. Like most of the Australians before them, they had made starts, but nobody yet managed to push on to an influential score. South Africa’s bowling was consistent and admirable, and there were two wickets each for Vernon Philander and Keshav Maharaj, and one to Kagiso Rabada. Their catching was sharp, though their reviewing was awful. Having lost the toss, they would be comfortable with their position.

Most notably for South Africa, they prevented Warner and Smith from really getting away. Smith brought up his fifth consecutive score of fifty-plus in Tests, and Warner shook off his recent struggles against the white ball to extend his run of fifty-plus Test scores in South Africa to six. But like a pair of rockabilly tragics, they both got stuck in the fifties.

Philander snared Warner for 51 with the final ball before lunch to leave Australia three-down at the long break, having already lost Cameron Bancroft and Usman Khawaja cheaply. Warner fell to an excellent catch from AB de Villiers at second slip and it was the second brilliant take by the South Africans in the session – Quinton de Kock had dived to his left to pouch a tough chance to remove Khawaja for 14 when Rabada nibbled one away in his first over.

Although just a single wicket fell in the next session it was arguably as valuable as the three that fell before lunch, for it was that of Smith, the best Test batsman in the world and the man to whom Australia look for stability. On 56, Smith edged one off the spin of Maharaj and saw the ball ricochet off the wicketkeeper de Kock and lob up to be easily grabbed by de Villiers at slip. It left Australia at 151 for 4, and less than ten overs later Maharaj added Shaun Marsh, who limply pushed outside off and edged behind for 40.

There was no shortage of action in the opening session, with South Africa out of reviews by the 11th over. They wasted their first on the third ball of the Test, when Morne Morkel’s delivery to Bancroft was shown to be both high and wide of leg stump, and the second review disappeared when Maharaj’s first ball spun sharply in to Warner – too sharply, for it would have missed leg stump comfortably.

They were potentially costly errors, and South Africa later could have had Shaun Marsh lbw on 19 if they had a review left in the bank. Rabada fired one in from around the wicket and struck Marsh low but was given not out on field; ball-tracking showed the delivery cannoning into leg stump. That they picked up Marsh before he did too much further damage must have been a relief.

The only Australian who failed to reach double figures was Bancroft, whose place in the Test side becomes more tenuous with each failure. Bancroft took the strange decision to walk across his stumps against the second ball he faced from Philander and edged behind for 5, the manner of his dismissal hardly what might have been expected of a man noted for patience.

By the close of play, all of his batting colleagues had made better starts, though Australia’s position was not especially strong. On an understated day of Test cricket, it was the hosts who narrowly took the honours.

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