Ponting leads Australia out of the mire

Australia 254-5 v South Africa

Thunder and lightning circled the ground as South Africa and Australia resumed their compelling confrontations. Rain did fall but not before 68 overs had been completed on a sporting pitch and in muggy conditions. After an hour the visitors were in dreadful strife but by stumps they were the happier side, 254 runs on the board and a capable pair at the crease.

Graeme Smith had himself to blame for allowing the tourists to escape. Had he pouched a sitter with Australia staggering at 67 for 3 and Ponting on 40, the innings might have subsided. To rub it in, Ponting, suggesting he is enjoying a new lease of life with his raw but rising outfit, scored 83 before Mayhaya Ntini's inswinger bowled him.

Michael Clarke provided sturdy support, producing several sumptuous back-foot shots and adding a pull and drive for good measure, in his 68, before Marcus North, one of three Australian debutants, and Brad Haddin continued the recovery.

Phil Hughes, opening in his first Test, lasted just four balls before he was dismissed by Dale Steyn while Simon Katich and Mike Hussey fared little better as the bowlers dominated in the morning. Hereabouts Australia's position was perilous. The fight back brought 217 runs at a cost of 2 wickets. There is life in the old dog.