BENONI - This was not one of those tour matches where the visiting team were going through the motions as can so often be the case.
There were no short bursts from the bowlers before heading off the field for a massage or an ice bath, no shirking responsibility in the field - balls were chased hard and if a dive was needed one was made.
The Australians were deadly serious about getting into some kind of match rhythm ahead of the four Test series against South Africa that starts next week. Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood and Pat Cummins, have all had three and half weeks off, having last played One-Day matches against England in the final week in January.
For them, Thursday was the perfect run around. They each got to bowl three spells ranging between four and in the case of Starc six overs. Although, understandably, still short of the intensity with which they are likely to bowl in Durban next week, there was sufficient menace about them to suggest the South African batsmen, who’ve struggled for much of the summer, are in for a difficult few weeks.
Whether Theunis de Bruyn will be the player to whom the selectors look for a solution to the Proteas’ batting ills will be one of the major discussion points when Ottis Gibson, Faf du Plessis and Linda Zondi meet next week.
What they will know from his most recent performances at franchise level for the Knights is that he is in form - he made 190 against the Dolphins two weeks ago and 83 against the Titans last week - and he maintained that form here with a classy innings of 46.
The Australian pace trio, despite not bowling at full tilt all the time, provided a significantly more challenging examination than anything De Bruyn would have faced in the last two Sunfoil Series matches, but he dealt with that challenge with measured authority. His defence was rock solid and when presented with a loose ball, he found the boundary with purpose, elegance and accuracy.
His partnership of 82 with the resolute Zubayr Hamza, who scored 44, was the SA A team’s best period of the day, but it did come at a time when the Australians were searching for some rhythm.
The first day of Australia's 3-day tour to South Africa ended with the tourists batting on 87/3 after the hosts were bowled out for 220 in Benoni. Steve Smith (23) was one of the wickets to fall for the Aussies, dismissed by Siboto (1/3). Olivier has 2/23 #SAAvAUS pic.twitter.com/F0cL49j0FX— Cricket South Africa (@OfficialCSA) February 22, 2018
With the exception of David Warner, who arrived in the country on Thursday, the Australian team playing here, is very much their first choice group for the Kingsmead Test.
Of the trio, Starc was probably the most inconsistent, struggling to find his line and length. He won’t be overly concerned however, for it was more about getting overs into his legs - he bowled 14 Thursday - and they’ll stand him in good stead as increases his intensity before Kingsmead.
Hazlewood bowled 12 overs, but he was in tune a lot earlier than his new ball partner - the result perhaps of a simpler action and he picked up three wickets. Cummins had the ball moving nicely through the air, and he cleaned up the SA A tail eventually finishing with figures of 4/32 in 11 overs.
Steve Smith and Usman Khawaja had a brief hit before the close, but for Cameron Bancroft, who had a difficult time during the Ashes, this innings will be vital in building some confidence ahead of the Tests. He will resume on Friday morning on 24 alongside Shaun Marsh who has scored 10.
Day 1 of 3:
SA A 220 all out