South Africa rode on twin half centuries by Neil McKenzie and JP Duminy and some late fireworks by Albie Morkel to edge past Australia by three wickets in the opening one-dayer of the five match cricket series in Melbourne on Friday.
Chasing 272 for a win, the Proteas survived a middle-order collapse to romp home with three deliveries to spare in a thrilling floodlit contest.
J P Duminy (71) and Neil McKenzie set the foundation for the visiting side before Morkel played a brilliant 40-run cameo, also sharing a 50-run eighth-wicket stand with Johan Botha (11) to seal the win for the South Africans.
Opting to bat first after winning the toss, the Australians were left to rue a slow batting start and shoddy bowling at the death in the see-saw contest.
Shaun Marsh top-scored for the hosts with a 97-ball 79.
David Hussey's 50-ball 52 and under-fire skipper Ricky Ponting's 46 were the only other notable contributions in the Aussie total after a slow start left them 146 for three in 31 overs.
He didn't take any wicket but Jacques Kallis' stifling 10-over spell conceding just 35 runs coupled with an equally economical 1/49 by Dale Steyn never allowed the Aussie batsmen to flourish.
Among the wicket-takers, Botha and Morne and Albie Morkel shared two scalps apiece to restrict Australia to 271 for eight in their 50 overs.
The Australians clearly missed the kind of flying start they were used to during the heydays of Matthew Hayden and Adam Gilchrist -- both retired now.
If the Aussie innings lacked spark all thorugh, the South African chase was no less subdued to start with and they lost their first wicket with just four runs on board when Hashim Amla departed for just one run after Shaun Tait crashed through his defences.
With Herschelle Gibbs (22) also gone with the team score at 36, the visitors looked in real trouble but Kallis steered them out of the crisis with a 49-ball 41.
After the all-rounder's dismissal in the 19th over, Duminy and McKenzie laboured on, sharing a 123-run partnership to take South Africa past 200 in the 40th over.
Then came a mini-collpase that sent their chase haywire and it started with Duminy's fall at the hands of Nathan Bracken.
Duminy flicked a Bracken off-cutter to the mid-wicket where Cameron White took an easy catch.
Mark Boucher (0), Vaughan van Jaarsveld (4) and McKenzie departed in the space of just four overs to leave the Proteas reeling at 221 for seven in the 45th over before Morkel's late heroics saved the day for them.
With the South Africans needing 38 runs off the last four overs, Morkel clobbered Bracken for a massive six to reduce the gap between the run and ball remaining.
He continued the assault in the next over and this time it was Ben Hilfenhaus at the receiving end as he hammered him for three fours. The Proteas needed seven runs off the last two overs and Morkel guided them home easily despite Bracken reducing the gap to five off seven deliveries.