PORT ELIZABETH, South Africa (AP) — South Africa found much-needed solace from Mitchell Johnson's pace on a sleepier seaside pitch to reach 145-3 at tea on the first day of the second test against Australia on Thursday.
The South Africans didn't completely subdue left-arm quick Johnson but they found the going much easier at St. George's Park on the south coast after their first-test nightmare against the fast bowler on a cracking surface up in Centurion.
Faf du Plessis and Dean Elgar made half-centuries and Elgar was 61 not out after his late promotion to open in place of Alviro Petersen, who ruled out by illness on the morning of the test.
Du Plessis was out to spinner Nathan Lyon for 55, but his 112-run stand with Elgar lifted the South Africans from real trouble early on when fast bowlers Ryan Harris and Johnson initially pounced on a shaky buildup by the home team, which was uncertain of its lineup until just before the toss and found itself 11-2 in the sixth over.
Elgar was already in line to replace injured allrounder Ryan McLaren, but South Africa pushed him up to open and brought in Quinton de Kock for his debut after Petersen's late viral infection. Wayne Parnell was recalled for spinner Robin Peterson and bowler Vernon Philander had a fitness test on a tight right hamstring just minutes before the toss.
South Africa captain Graeme Smith only finalized his team with a pen and paper out in the middle after confirming Philander was ok, then turned to the toss and chose to bat under heavy cloud cover in Port Elizabeth.
With South Africa in early disarray, Harris and Johnson struck, with Harris extracting seam movement off a fairly grassy surface to send Smith back lbw for 9. Johnson had Hashim Amla, also lbw, for a duck and South Africa was under grinding pressure again in muggy and overcast conditions.
Elgar and Du Plessis managed Johnson more than dominated him, with Elgar hit on the upper arm and on the shoulder by short-pitched balls from Johnson, the main destroyer in Australia's 281-run rout of top-ranked South Africa in the first test.
Elgar took a painstaking 20 balls and 42 minutes to score his first run, but gritted it out and later unleashed two sixes off Lyon as he passed 50 for the second time in tests. His only test century came at Port Elizabeth a year ago. Du Plessis overtook Elgar and began to control their partnership until he popped up a catch to Steve Smith close to the bat. AB de Villiers was 13 not out alongside Elgar at the tea break.
Harris, Johnson and Lyon shared the three wickets but Australia was not in complete control for the first time since the opening session of the first test.
Gerald Imray is on Twitter at www.twitter/com/GeraldImrayAP