South Africa strike bowler Anrich Nortje claimed the key wickets of David Warner and Marnus Labuschagne on Wednesday to prise Australia’s grip on the third Test in Sydney as rain plagued the opening day.
Nortje was the Proteas’ star man as he removed Warner cheaply for 10 and late in the day denied Labuschagne (79) his 11th Test hundred.
As bad light and rain conspired to prematurely end the first day, Australia was 147 for two with Usman Khawaja, who averages 98 in Sydney Tests, unbeaten on 54 and Steven Smith yet to score.
Nortje got the big breakthrough with a ripper, taking the edge of Labuschagne’s bat to get him caught behind and end his 151-ball stay.
The pacer earlier struck in his second over of the day when he had Melbourne Test double-centurion Warner caught at slip by Marco Jansen for 10.
No sooner had Smith arrived at the wicket after Labuschagne’s dismissal than the players left the field for bad light for the final time.
It is the sixth bedevilled Sydney Test out of the past seven to be affected by rain.
There was controversy earlier in Labuschagne’s innings when on 70 he edged Jansen to Harmer at slip.
The on-field umpires referred the decision with a soft signal of out, only for third umpire Richard Kettleborough to rule that the ball had touched the ground between the fingers of Harmer.
Khawaja also survived a review straight after lunch on 25 as he reverse-swept Harmer and was given out leg before wicket, but replays showed the ball touching the glove.
The opening day was also marked by Matt Renshaw, recalled for his first Test for Australia since April 2018, returning a positive Covid-19 test after the toss was taken and the team composition confirmed.
But team officials said he would continue to play in the match with his symptoms only described as mild.
Renshaw was transferred to a separate dressing room from his teammates where he will prepare for the rest of the match, and spent most of play sitting away from the team runners near the Australian dug-out.
Skipper Pat Cummins won his fifth successive toss and decided to play an extra spinner with left-armer Ashton Agar, and Renshaw coming in to bolster the batting, squeezing out in-form paceman Scott Boland on a dry cracking Sydney Cricket Ground pitch.
South Africa did likewise, with off-spinner Harmer ousting Lungi Ngidi while Heinrich Klaasen replaced Theunis de Bruyn at number three.
Apart from a series clean sweep, Australia will be looking to lock in a place in the ICC World Test Championship final in London in June. The Proteas still have an outside chance but must first cause an upset in Sydney.
The Australians have already wrapped up the three-match series after hammering the Proteas by an innings and 182 runs in Melbourne following a six-wicket rout in the opener in Brisbane inside two days.