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Shaun Marsh 122 not out to lead Australia to 297-4 in 1st test vs. No. 1 South Africa

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CENTURION, South Africa - Shaun Marsh arrived on tour in time to make a priceless century for Australia and turn around the first day of the opening test against top-ranked South Africa on Wednesday with his 122 not out.

Initially left out due to injury, Marsh recovered to join the team late and then hit just his second test hundred and first since his debut three years ago in the early skirmishes of the much-hyped series. It lifted No. 3 Australia convincingly from 24-2 and 98-4 to 297-4 at stumps at SuperSport Park after being sent in by South Africa.

Probably still jet lagged, Marsh rebuilt the innings with the significant help of Steve Smith, who was 91 not out in a 199-run partnership for the fifth wicket that took the Aussies through most of the last two sessions without loss and in sight of a big total, switching the pressure back onto the home team.

"Shaun was amazing all day," Smith said. "When the ball got into his areas, he really capitalized. To be 4-297 at the end of a day's play when you've been sent in, I think we're in a very good position."

Australia's fight came after a careless start and there was trouble when captain Michael Clarke couldn't resist a hook shot and was bounced out by Dale Steyn for the fourth wicket just after lunch.

But Marsh's innings, off 232 balls with 12 thundering fours, undid the early strikes from South Africa's quick bowlers, with Steyn leading a withering attack at the end with 2-54 on a ground the Proteas have lost just once on in 18 tests.

Morne Morkel had 1-56 and Vernon Philander, the No. 1 test bowler, was wicket-less, with South Africa's attack described by Smith as "impatient" at times.

"Tomorrow's another day and we've got to come back fighting," South Africa allrounder Ryan McLaren said.

If Australia's 5-0 Ashes whitewash of England didn't get the attention of the world's top test team, Marsh's century and Smith's adventurous 91 did as the Aussies came battling back.

South Africa captain Graeme Smith had opted to put them in on a Centurion track that was viewed differently by the two skippers. Clarke said Australia would have batted first anyway.

At the end of the day, Clarke's diagnosis appeared to be right as the Australians sat in a strong position with dangerous batsmen Brad Haddin, in red-hot form in the Ashes, and Mitchell Johnson still to come.

Marsh survived a tough dropped catch on 12 and another near-miss with a lofted drive just over Robin Peterson, but his greatest victory may have been over jet lag after only arriving in South Africa on Sunday morning.

"It took me a good week to get over it and he's only been here for three days so he's probably copping a little bit," Steve Smith said of Marsh's fatigue. "Just the way he played today was sensational."

Marsh was thrown into the team alongside debutant Alex Doolan, and both arrived at the middle in Centurion with the tourists under pressure at 15-1 and 24-2.

On the first day of a series where the talk has been all about two highly rated fast-bowling attacks, South Africa's seamers had familiar early success at one of their favourite grounds. Steyn and Morne Morkel initially vindicated their captain's toss decision with the quick wickets of openers David Warner and Chris Rogers.

Warner made a typically bullish start by punching two fours through the offside, but chopped a Steyn delivery onto his stumps on 12 while attempting another attacking shot. Rogers was hit by a bouncer on Morkel's first delivery and next ball popped up to short leg, where JP Duminy made a diving one-handed catch and sent the opener back for 4.

Doolan found his range in his first test innings with five fours and forced the South Africans to bring McLaren into the attack, the home team's replacement for recently retired allrounder Jacques Kallis. Only, approaching lunch and in the midst of a promising debut, Doolan hit a powerful pull off a tempting short ball from McLaren at short midwicket to Peterson, who caught it two-handed diving to his left.

Struggling with a stomach bug, Steyn picked up his second when he set up Clarke with a couple of short balls just after lunch and the Aussie skipper eventually went for one and was caught at fine leg by Philander to bring Smith out to join Marsh.

That was South Africa's last success of the opening day of the three-match contest as the Australians took round one.

___

Gerald Imray is on Twitter at www.twitter.com/GeraldImrayAP

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