Captain Michael Clarke defied a rampant Dale Steyn with an authoritative century to keep Australia afloat on the opening day of the first Test against South Africa at Newlands on Wednesday.
Clarke reached the close, when bad light forced the players from the field with 23 overs still to be bowled, on 107 not out as Australia posted 214 for eight after being sent in to bat.
Steyn, the number one bowler on the International Cricket Council (ICC) rankings, had dominated the rest of the Australian batsmen as he took four for 31 in 14 overs, proving lethal on a pitch that offered little pace but plenty of movement.
Vernon Philander, the debutant seamer, claimed three for 54 to support Steyn.
Clarke's positive batting had led Australia to 143 for four at tea but South Africa fought back in the final session as Steyn and Morne Morkel struck twice in the first six overs after the break.
Morkel induced an inside edge from Mike Hussey (1) to give wicketkeeper Mark Boucher his second catch, while Brad Haddin (5) played an ambitious drive against Steyn and was well caught by Ashwell Prince in the gully.
Mitchell Johnson scored an aggressive 20 before chasing a bouncer from Philander and looping a simple catch to mid-on.
Ryan Harris (5) fell in similar fashion to the same bowler two balls before the umpires called the players off the field.
Clarke's masterful innings came off 114 deliveries, with 17 fours, as he batted with admirable intent and technical skill on a difficult pitch. The 30-year-old lashed seamer Jacques Kallis through cover-point for his 16th boundary and his 16th Test century four overs before the close.
The dazzling Clarke had earlier dominated a stand of 103 for the fourth wicket with Shaun Marsh, as Australia controlled proceedings in the second session.
South Africa's bowlers had held sway in the pre-lunch period after rain had delayed the start of play by an hour and 45 minutes.
The faltering innings then slipped to 40 for three in the second over after lunch as Steyn trapped Ricky Ponting lbw for eight and then gave Clarke a roasting with a superb mix of late swing and fiery short-pitched bowling.
However, the Australian captain proved his courage, standing firm and then taking on the less impressive other South African bowlers, who were erratic in the second session.
Clarke mixed powerful strokes with precision placement, and he and Marsh were starting to seize control on a difficult pitch for batting.
Steyn then returned for the over before tea and his first delivery swung back late into the left-handed Marsh, who had scored 44. The fast bowler won the lbw decision from umpire Ian Gould but the batsman asked for a review, which confirmed that the ball would have hit middle stump.
A similar delivery had accounted for Ponting, who stepped across his stumps and missed a flick to leg, but this time it was Steyn who asked for the review and was successful in having umpire Billy Doctrove's not-out verdict reversed.
Steyn and Philander took a wicket apiece as Australia struggled to 39 for two at lunch.
The hosts snared their first wicket in the fifth over, when Shane Watson was caught at second slip by Kallis off Steyn.
Watson had scored three when he was squared up by a wonderful delivery that landed in line with leg-stump, before moving away late to find the edge of the bat.
The 26-year-old Philander made an impressive start to his Test career as he kept to a tight line and obtained both swing and seam movement. He roared with delight when, with his 18th ball, he found the edge of Phil Hughes's bat with a delivery that angled across the left-hander, having him caught behind by Boucher for nine.
It was world-record-holder Boucher's 500th Test catch, the 34-year-old having taken 498 for South Africa and two for the Rest of the World against Australia in 2005/6.
Australia were 13 for two, but Marsh and Ponting stuck to their task well in difficult conditions to deny South Africa any further breakthrough in the morning session.