Bad light and rain meant that only 47 overs were bowled on the first day of the Sydney Test on Wednesday – the third and final one in the three-match series which Australia have already won after the thrashing South Africa in the first two.
As the dead rubber started, Marnus Labuschagne and Usman Khawaja hit half-centuries before Anrich Nortje helped South Africa claw back into the third Test at a gloomy SCG.
Pat Cummins won a crucial toss and elected to bat on a dry surface, Australia reached stumps at 147 for 2 with Khawaja unbeaten on 54 and Steven Smith yet to face a delivery.
Labuschagne and Khawaja had built a strong platform with a 135-run partnership after the early loss of opener David Warner for 10. There was a delay of more than two hours due to bad light before five overs were squeezed in late in the day and Nortje capitalised with a cracking delivery to remove Labuschagne.
Exerting plenty of energy, Nortje conjured sharp bounce and pace on the slow surface to produce an unplayable delivery that had Labuschagne caught behind.
After a lionhearted effort in Melbourne, Nortje was again the standout with 2 for 26 from 11 overs having earlier taken the wicket of Warner. He has kept a struggling South Africa buoyant after Australia threatened to grab an early stranglehold of the contest.
Labuschagne had been irrepressible until on 70 he appeared to be dismissed out of nowhere when he edged seamer Marco Jansen to first slip where Simon Harmer claimed a low catch.
It was given out on the soft signal but Labuschagne stood his ground and it seemed difficult to prove from replays whether Harmer had his hands under the ball close to the turf.
Third umpire Richard Kettleborough overturned the decision much to the frustration of South Africa. It only furthered Labuschagne’s reputation as a rather charmed batter but he had played imperiously before that contentious incident with five boundaries in 12 balls to go from 40 to 61.
After bowling well before lunch, Harmer trapped Khawaja LBW with the second delivery of the second session only for the decision to be reversed when replays showed the ball hit the glove first.
Having revived his career a year ago with twin centuries against England on this ground, Khawaja passed 4000 career Test runs en route to a half-century.
Under-pressure South Africa captain Dean Elgar once again made questionable decisions, including underutilizing Harmer who bowled just five overs even though his off-spin particularly threatened left-handed Khawaja.
Elgar, however, backed underperforming left-arm spinner Keshav Maharaj who bowled nine overs for 35 runs with Labuschagne and Khawaja sweeping effectively against him. Maharaj has now bowled 52.5 overs without reward in this series.