South African spearhead Dale Steyn returned from a rib injury as the world No.1 side shook off the red-ball rust after their national Twenty20 competition.
The Proteas had played only domestic T20 cricket since their last-start Test win over India in December, the same match where Steyn suffered a fractured rib.
But on Tuesday, they amassed a total of 300 and reduced a Composite XI to 3-24 at stumps at the start of a three-day practice match at the Wanderers.
Steyn bowled only three overs, but showed enough to impress teammate Faf du Plessis.
"The nice thing with Dale is he knows exactly what his body needs, and he knows how many days are left before the first Test," du Plessis said, eight days out from the opening Test against Australia at Centurion.
"Today he was bowling probably at 60 per cent and still swinging the ball nice and late, and landing it in good areas.
"It shows you the quality bowler he is.
"But every day, he'll step it up now. I think he took half a run-up today just to get back into it. In the next few days, he'll start cranking it up."
None of South Africa's Test batsmen made a score of substance after Graeme Smith won the toss.
Vernon Philander top scored with 58, the tail rescuing the Proteas after they slumped to 7-151.
"The wicket was pretty tough. Obviously on conditions like that, we would never choose to bat first time," said du Plessis, who scored 36.
"But because we're trying to get as much out of this exercise as we can, we took the conditions on.
"It was quite tricky today."
It was almost a full-strength side with the exception of injured wicketkeeper AB de Villiers.
De Villiers underwent surgery on his left hand last month but is expected to be fit next Wednesday for the Test series opener.
"It was probably just one or two days too early to throw him back into a game," du Plessis said.
"But I saw him batting in the nets and his hand was fine and he looked very comfortable."
Thami Tsolekile kept wickets for South Africa, with Jacques Kallis' absence the only other change to the incumbent team.
Rory Kleinveldt took Kallis' spot, but it is likely he is just warming it for Ryan McLaren and Wayne Parnell - the aspiring allrounders both played for the Composite XI.
Parnell snared the scalps of Smith (29) and Hashim Amla (one).