Shaun Marsh brushes aside ailments to lead Australia's recovery

Australia 297-4 v South Africa

With the start of the lambing season now upon us, Alastair Cook may not have found a spare moment to catch up with events at Centurion, but, if he did, the England captain may just have afforded himself a wry smile.

After the disastrous Ashes tour and its bitter recriminations, Cook is performing his annual duties on his father-in-law's farm in Bedfordshire while Australia embark on the next stage of their recovery under Michael Clarke against the world's No 1-ranked Test nation. But when Clarke was out in the seventh over after lunch, having been surprisingly put in by the South African captain, Graeme Smith, the tourists found themselves struggling at 98 for 4.

Yet in circumstances that would have seemed particularly familiar to Cook, Australia's middle order came to the rescue once more to allow them to finish the first day of the three-match series in the ascendant. The only difference from the Ashes was that this time the recovery was led by Shaun Marsh, playing his first Test since January 2012, who posted an unbroken stand of 199 with Steve Smith to finish unbeaten on 122.

Called up as a replacement for the injured Shane Watson despite still nursing a strained stomach muscle and suffering from the effects of jet lag, having arrived only on Sunday, Marsh – the son of former Australia coach Geoff – had averaged just 25 in first-class cricket for Western Australia in the two years since being dropped. But the 30-year-old took only 174 balls to reach his second Test century in a flowing innings that left South Africa's much-vaunted pace attack scratching their heads.

He was ably supported by Smith, who will now hope to complete his third Test century in his past four innings when play resumes this morning.

"It took the rest of us a week to get over the jet lag, so it must have been hard for him being here only three days," Smith said of Marsh's effort.

"He was amazing all day, he let the ball come into his areas and then capitalised on it. We knew it would be tough initially but it has turned into a good wicket and there are now a couple of cracks developing. So we will want to get a big first-innings total and then hope the cracks begin to play a part in the game."

South Africa have only lost one Test match at Centurion since its debut in 1995 – against Nasser Hussain's England in 2000 – and Smith now finds his side under real pressure. Without the retired all-rounder Jacques Kallis, and with the leg-spinner Imran Tahir jettisoned following an indifferent series against India, Ryan McLaren and Robin Petersen were both brought in but endured a testing day, taking only one wicket between them.

The trusted opening partnership of Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel looked to have justified Smith's decision to insert Australia after winning the toss when Chris Rogers and David Warner were both dismissed inside the first 10 overs. That brought the debutant Alex Doolan and Marsh to the crease and, aside from a half-chance spurned by Hashim Amla, the new partnership steadied the ship well until McLaren had Doolan caught at midwicket.

Batting at No 5 at his own behest, Clarke looked in good form until he was lured into a hook off Steyn to bring Smith in. But that was the last opportunity for a sparse home crowd to celebrate as Australia proved the durability they have developed under coach Darren Lehmann that Cook now knows only too well.

Pietersen's freelance era begins with pay cut

Kevin Pietersen's first engagement as a freelance Twenty20 player will be for Delhi Daredevils after today's Indian Premier League auction, although the former England batsman's final price of $1.5m (£880,000) was well down on predictions. Released by Delhi last month, Pietersen was initially bought by Sunrisers Hyderabad but Daredevils used their right-to-match card to intervene, a saving of £300,000 over the price they paid for him in 2012.

Having made himself available for the entire six weeks of the tournament for the first time, it was expected that his signature would fetch the highest price but that honour went to India's Yuvraj Singh – so often Pietersen's nemesis in the past. His price tag of $2.25m (£1.37m) was close to the record set in 2011, although in the whole spending was more frugal than previous years, with just £21m paid out compared to £31m in 2011.