A slow and difficult surface came in for criticism after day one of the first Test between South Africa and Australia in Durban, where the tourists finished on 5-225 when bad light stopped play.
Skipper Steve Smith (56), David Warner (51) and Shaun Marsh (40) all got starts but failed to go on with the job, leaving Mitch Marsh (32 not out) and Tim Paine (21 not out) to guide Australia to stumps.
Players from both sides expressed concerns about the pitch afterwards, with Warner declaring he was stunned when its hard nature caused the ball to start reverse swinging in the first session of the day.
“It was two-paced … it looks a harder surface,” he told Fox Sports.
“I thought it started going [reverse after] 24 [or] 25 overs, which is amazing on day one of a Test match.
“You don’t normally see that.”
Warner added that Australia were “probably two wickets down too many” and South African spinner Keshav Maharaj (2-69 off 24 overs) agreed.
“A lot of people would say it’s a balanced day but I think we won it in terms of controlling the run-rate,” he said.
“We brought it back really nicely and managed to pick up some crucial wickets.”
On the pitch, Maharaj said: “It’s a little bit slow … not much pace or bounce or anything to work with.”
Maharaj’s highlight of day one was the scalp of Smith, who looked set to continue on from his scintillating Ashes form and hit a 24th Test century.
The Australia captain bottom-edged a Maharaj delivery, though, and it rebounded off wicket-keeper Quinton de Kock’s gloves and into the hands of AB de Villiers at first slip.
The key wicket reduced Australia to 4-151 and Shaun Marsh was also caught at slip off the spinner, edging behind with just 26 more runs added.
That left Mitch Marsh and Paine with an important job of seeing Australia to stumps but the pair both played well to leave the series opener evenly poised.
The first session was action-packed, with Smith’s decision to win the toss and bat looking questionable at 2-39 in the 12th over.
Morne Morkel (0-48 off 16 overs) wasted a review from just the third ball of the match, when he thought he had Cameron Bancroft (five) LBW, but the opener did not last long, edging Vernon Philander (2-36 off 17) behind in an ugly dismissal.
Bancroft walked down the wicket before playing a false shot, described as a “brainfade” by former South Africa captain Graeme Smith.
And Bancroft was soon joined in the pavilion by Usman Khawaja, who was also caught behind. Kagiso Rabada (1-58 off 16) removed the left-hander for just 14.
Warner – who survived a review from Maharaj’s very first ball – and Smith got to work in a bid to resurrect Australia’s innings and they looked like they had done enough to navigate their way to lunch.
Warner fell on the very last ball before the break, though, edging the wily Philander to first slip to give the Proteas all the momentum.
There were shades of the first Test in 2014, the last time the two sides met in South Africa, about the early stages of Smith and Shaun Marsh’s partnership.
On that occasion, at Centurion, Australia were 4-98 but both players scored centuries to help the tourists to a commanding position.
It was 3-95 this time and both looked comfortable until Shaun Marsh was trapped in front on 19 by Rabada.
Without any reviews, South Africa could not challenge an ultimately incorrect ‘not out’ decision on the appeal.
Marsh could not make the Proteas pay but his younger brother later showed plenty of resilience in a 77-ball knock that included seven fours.
Paine held up his end of the bargain at the other end, too, before play ended early due to light issues.