Australia’s batting woes have been laid bare on an eventful second day of the first Test at the WACA Ground, which ended with South Africa holding a 102-run lead at stumps.
The Proteas will resume their second dig at 2-104 after staging a remarkable comeback with the ball on Friday in the absence of spearhead Dale Steyn, who has been ruled out of the three-match series with a shoulder injury.
Australia was well placed to take complete control of the match at 0-158 but capitulated to be all out for 244.
Tailender Peter Siddle’s unbeaten 18 helped the hosts eke out a first-innings lead of two runs when tea was taken.
“I can’t (explain it) … a few of us probably have to look at ourselves in the mirror and say why did we play those shots,” Australian vice-captain David Warner told the Nine Network.
“A couple of soft dismissals from us has let them back in the game.”
Siddle removed opener Stephen Cook for 12, while Hashim Amla was undone by Josh Hazlewood for the second time in the match.
But Steve Smith’s team was otherwise left to stew on its worst top-order collapse on home soil since 1978.
Smith had rejected Steyn’s pre-game suggestion that Australia could crumble if South Africa were to dismiss the skipper cheaply and “cut off the head of the snake”.
Smith, who recorded the fourth duck of his Test career and could be punished for dissent after failing to hide his disbelief and disappointment with umpire Aleem Dar’s lbw decision, had insisted recent collapses in the 3-0 series loss to Sri Lanka would not be replicated.
A chaotic slump of 10-86, kickstarted with Steyn’s dismissal of Warner for 97, suggested otherwise.
With Steyn off the field, Usman Khawaja, Smith, Shaun Marsh and Mitch Marsh were out in alarmingly quick fashion – the first time in almost 40 years that Australia has lost its top five wickets for fewer than 23 runs at home.
Mitch Marsh’s spot in the team is under pressure after he was dismissed for an eight-ball duck, trapped plumb lbw by South Africa paceman Vernon Philander.
“The staggering part of that dismissal is how much he missed the ball by,” Nine Network commentator Ian Chappell said.
Marsh averages just 23.07 from 30 Test innings.
Adam Voges (27) and Peter Nevill (23) threatened to steady Australia’s batting effort but failed.
Philander finished with figures of 4-56, while left-arm spinner Keshav Maharaj pocketed three wickets on debut.
South African paceman Kasigo Rabada was warned for running on the pitch in his follow through, while both umpires had an animated discussion with Proteas skipper Faf du Plessis during the second session.
Another rout looked possible when South Africa slumped to 2-45 in the evening session, but Dean Elgar and JP Duminy rallied and their unbeaten third-wicket stand is already worth 59 runs.
Steyn, meanwhile, has been ruled out of the remainder of the Test series after fracturing a bone in his troublesome right shoulder.
The 33-year-old, who missed a large chunk of cricket after breaking his shoulder in a surfing accident last December, broke down while delivering the fourth ball of his seventh over of the day.
Scans in hospital confirmed the extent of the damage, which is expected to require surgery.
His latest setback casts serious doubt about whether he can return as a force in Test cricket so late in his career.
– with AAP