View Comments
The grassy Port Elizabeth pitch has been cut back and could be shorn further before the second Test.
AAP The grassy Port Elizabeth pitch has been cut back and could be shorn further before the second Test.

It wasn't as dangerous nor intimidating, but Mitchell Johnson rattled South Africa once again as the hosts reached 2-64 at lunch on day one of the second Test.

Johnson, so potent on a bouncy Centurion pitch where he claimed career-best match figures of 12-127, adapted seamlessly to a low-and-slow Port Elizabeth surface on Thursday morning.

The left-armer pitched the ball up more and made the most of overcast conditions to trap Hashim Amla lbw for a duck and reduce the hosts to 2-11.

Ryan Harris had accounted for Graeme Smith (nine) in similar fashion, although the ball that removed the Proteas captain was not as challenging and yet hit his back leg.

Dean Elgar, opening in place of Alviro Petersen (gastro), and Faf du Plessis steadied with an unbeaten 53-run partnership as the hosts fought back.

Elgar, who made a pair on Test debut against Australia in 2012 when Johnson twice dismissed him at the WACA, took 42 minutes to get off the mark and was struck on the shoulder in the left-armer's second spell.

But the left-hander likened to a Bull Terrier by teammate Morne Morkel earlier this week showed exactly the sort of dogged determination needed.

And after 11 overs of nothing pretty, Elgar lashed a towering six off Nathan Lyon to move his score from one to seven in front of a sparse crowd made much louder by the St George's Park brass band.

Elgar, axed from Cricket South Africa's central contract list on Tuesday, was 23 at the meal break with du Plessis on 26.

Smith opted to bat first under dark clouds and insisted it had nothing to do with his regrettable decision to send the visitors in for the three-Test series opener, where Australia sauntered to a 281-run win.

Even before the opening ball there was much drama at the ground, with Michael Clarke kept waiting for a few minutes as Vernon Philander completed a fitness test to show he had overcome a "little niggle".

"I got a message as I was putting my blazer on," Smith said of the delay.

"The drama is sorted out, Vernon is ready to go."

The Proteas still rang the changes with Elgar, debutant Quinton de Kock and allrounder Wayne Parnell promoted at the expense of Petersen, Robin Peterson (omitted) and Ryan McLaren (concussion).

Australia named an unchanged XI.