David Warner and Steve Smith made half-centuries but it was honours even on an attritional first day of the Test series between South Africa and Australia at Kingsmead.

Captain Smith inspired his side to a 4-0 Ashes thumping of England and made 56 on a slow pitch as Australia closed on 225-5 in Durban after winning the toss.

Warner contributed 51 at the top of the order, but two wickets apiece for the excellent Vernon Philander (2-36) and spinner Keshav Maharaj (2-69) kept the tourists in check.

Shaun Marsh chipped in with 40 and his brother Mitchell was unbeaten on 32 along with Tim Paine (21 not out) when bad light brought the opening day of the four-match series to a close with 14 overs still due to be bowled.

South Africa, who left out Lungi Ngidi in favour of Theunis de Bruyn, lost a review when Morne Morkel thought he had Cameron Bancroft leg before in the first over, but the right-hander was on his way after edging behind advancing to a Philander delivery which swung away.

Warner struck Philander for a glorious straight drive and breathed a sigh of relief when the Proteas used up their second review, convinced a sharply turning first ball from Maharaj trapped the opener lbw.

Australia were two down with only 39 on the board, though, Kagiso Rabada (1-58) drawing an edge from Usman Khawaja (14) in his first over and Quinton de Kock clinging on to take a superb diving catch.

Warner hooked the hostile Rabada to the boundary and was going along nicely until edging the last ball of the morning session from Philander to AB de Villiers at first slip to leave Australia 95-3 at lunch.

The prolific Smith looked ominously comfortable from the outset, punishing loose deliveries on both sides of the wicket in a patient knock with support from Shaun Marsh.

The watchful older Marsh brother survived a big lbw shout from Rabada and De Villiers failed to hold on to a sharp chance offered by Smith before the skipper brought up his 24th Test half-century.

Smith hit 11 boundaries in another assured innings, but fell before tea when he edged Maharaj attempting a cut and De Villiers took a simple catch after the ball clattered into De Kock's gloves and looped up in the air to end a stand of 56.

Mitchell Marsh got off the mark by punching a short ball from Maharaj through the covers for four and his older brother was rattled on the helmet by Rabada prior to hitting Maharaj for two boundaries in an over.

The spinner saw the back of the left-hander with a beauty after tea, De Villiers again taking the catch, but the positive Mitchell Marsh and Paine (21no) ensured no further damage was done before play was cut short.