PORT ELIZABETH, South Africa (AP) — Australia showed patience in Port Elizabeth to go with the fury at Centurion.
Coaxing as much life as they could out of a stubbornly slow pitch, the Australians took two late wickets and reclaimed control over a panicky South Africa on the first day Thursday of the second test.
Spinners Nathan Lyon, who returned 2-47, and Steve Smith removed Dean Elgar for 83 and Quinton de Kock cheaply on debut in the final session to have the hosts 214-5 at stumps, putting the Aussies back ahead after their quicks made early inroads before a typically sluggish surface at St. George's Park held up their progress.
The spin bowlers' breakthroughs in the late afternoon, though, ensured that Australia ultimately had a good day after initially reducing top-ranked South Africa to 11-2 and then having to absorb pressure when Elgar shared a century stand with Faf du Plessis (55) and half-century partnership with AB de Villiers, who was 51 not out.
"Test match cricket is all about patience," Lyon said. "It's a mental game and if we can outlast the opposition."
South Africa, 1-0 down and with its five-year unbeaten run in series on the line, found some sanctuary from Mitchell Johnson's pace to be 181-3 at one point, but Lyon kept going and Elgar threw away his wicket and a second test century trying to heave the offspinner down the ground.
De Kock, flown in on Wednesday night to make his debut, tried to do the same in the first over from legspinner Smith and was caught at mid-off for 7 and trudged back to the pavilion utterly despondent after his rush of blood.
"It's pretty much the slowest I've seen PE (Port Elizabeth) play," Elgar said, praising the Australians' persistence. "They stuck to their game plan the whole day."
No. 1 test batsman De Villiers, the one South African to resist the lethal performance from left-arm quick Johnson in the first test in Centurion, held out again in vastly different conditions and has made half-centuries in 12 consecutive tests, a record.
But Australia's second line of attack found a way to wear down the batsmen on a sleepy pitch on the south coast after spearhead Johnson blasted them out in the first game on a white-hot surface on the Highveld.
"We thought it was a pretty good day," Lyon said. "It's a pretty slow pitch but we knew that and we knew we had to work hard."
Australia's calm approach, with players dancing along to music drifting over from a band in the crowd in the afternoon, contrasted with South Africa's frenzied start and finish. Having made three changes already, a late injury scare and fitness test for bowler Vernon Philander meant South Africa finalized its team only seconds before the toss, with captain Graeme Smith taking a pen and a piece of paper out to the middle and scribbling Philander's name in just before deciding to bat.
With South Africa in such early disarray, fast bowlers Ryan Harris and Johnson struck. Harris extracted rare seam movement to send Smith back lbw for 9. Johnson had Hashim Amla, also lbw, for a duck and Australia had South Africa under pressure in cloudy conditions.
Elgar and du Plessis managed Johnson rather than subdued him, with Elgar hit on the upper arm and on the shoulder by short-pitched balls. Elgar took a painstaking 20 balls and 42 minutes to score his first run, but later unleashed two sixes off Lyon as he passed 50 for the second time in tests.
Du Plessis was out to Lyon for 55, and his 112-run stand with Elgar lifted the South Africans from real trouble. Elgar and De Villiers then put on 58 together.
But in the final session, Lyon tempted Elgar into attempting a third maximum and the left-hander miscued to Harris in the covers. De Kock went down the track to try and attack Smith and looped a catch to mid-off for a valuable final breakthrough for the persistent Australians.
"There are no cheap wickets in test match cricket," Lyon said, insisting the Aussies worked hard for all of them.
Gerald Imray is on Twitter at www.twitter/com/GeraldImrayAP