| GEO Sports|
| Australia reach 254-5 at close vs. South Africa|
| Updated at: 0226 PST, Friday, February 27, 2009|
JOHANNESBURG: Half centuries by captain Ricky Ponting and Michael Clarke bailed Australia from a shaky start against South Africa to finish at 254-5 on the opening day of the opening cricket test on Thursday.
Ponting and Clarke came together at 38-3 before lunch and lifted the Australians' mood with a stand of 113 at more than four per over.
Ponting made 83 and Clarke 68. Marcus North, on debut, was 47 not out with Brad Haddin on 37 when play was halted early because of poor light at Wanderers.
Umpires Steve Bucknor and Billy Bowden offered the light to the batsmen 17 overs after the tea break. Shortly after the players left the field, it began to drizzle and play was called off for the day.
Dale Steyn, the Proteas' main weapon with 3-82, said Australia held a slight edge but he hoped the new ball will pay dividends on Friday.
``If we had got another wicket, it would definitely have been an even day, and another two wickets would have swung it our way. It was that even a contest,'' Steyn said.
``If we can break through early in the morning we can restrict Australia to a reasonable total. The new ball is just around the corner and a couple of early wickets would allow us to get into their tail.''
Australia, which lost its home series 2-1 to South Africa just last month, could hardly have started any worse.
Phillip Hughes, stepping into the shoes of the retired Matthew Hayden as opening batsman, was back in the pavilion for a duck after facing the first four balls from Steyn. Hughes played an ungainly attempted cut off a ball which he could easily have left alone, and got a bottom edge to wicketkeeper Mark Boucher.
Fellow opener Simon Katich hung around for 42 minutes in making3, and fell to a superb, diving one-handed catch by Neil McKenzie off Steyn.
When Michael Hussey was well held by Jacques Kallis at second slip on 4 to give Morne Morkel his 50th test wicket, Australia was in a spot of bother on 38-3.
Ponting and Clarke started the recovery under immense pressure from South Africa. Immediately after lunch, though, the experienced pair took advantage of some loose bowling to add 58 runs in the first hour.
Ponting rode some luck. He was struck on the right forearm by fast bowler Morkel before lunch and was fortunate to be dropped on40 by Proteas captain Graeme Smith. After racking his 45th half century, he survived an appeal to the television umpire in his 70swhen the ball was shown to have hit his trouser pocket and not his bat.
But after hitting 11 fours and a six, he was out to a peach of a delivery from Makhaya Ntini on 83 with the total on 151. Ponting did not offer a shot to the swinging delivery which cut back off the pitch and brushed his pads before crashing into the stumps.
Moments before tea, Clarke was out to an extravagant drive off Steyn and caught behind after hitting 10 fours in his 13th half century.
North had hit two half centuries in a warm up game which ended on Sunday, and he looked comfortable on Thursday in hitting six fours in his innings. Haddin, who also shot six boundaries, joined North at 182-5 and the pair cruised to early stumps.
Steyn said the Proteas let Australia off the hook because of alack of first-class cricket for the first-line bowlers since the test series in Australia but remained hopeful.
``Once we got the ball in the right spot it just showed there is something out there for the bowlers,'' Steyn said.
South Africa all rounder Jacques Kallis bowled four overs in the first session, but was sidelined with a back strain. He was cleared to bowl on Friday.