The Proteas were in strife at 6-75, after Graeme Smith won the toss and chose to bat, but stumbled to 225 all out thanks mostly to Adelaide’s saviour Faf du Plessis (78 not out).
Australia batted late in the day, and lost two early wickets, after a rampant Dale Steyn and Vernon Philander put Ed Cowan (0) and Shane Watson (10) back in the pavilion.
David Warner (12 not out) and nightwatchman Nathan Lyon (7 not out) dug in for the final tricky overs of the day.
Lyon won’t have been offended after being welcomed onto the WACA Ground by boos – they weren’y for him but the absence of Ponting coming in at number four, with skipper Clarke preferring to protect his veteran from a brief twilight attack until day two.
Australia finished the day on a precarious but familiar 2-33, with Ponting, Clarke and Hussey next in line.
Having dropped Peter Siddle and Ben Hilfenhaus due to fatigue and losing James Pattinson through injury, all eyes were on Mitchell Starc, John Hastings and Mitchell Johnson early in the day – the move worked a treat, with Starc especially delivering, but all pacemen sharing the wickets.
Shane Watson’s return was welcomed with his tight line and length support bowling, despite his failure with the bat.
Off-spinner Lyon, who was considered to be dropped in favour of a four-pronged pace attack on the bouncy Perth pitch, was also an inspired inclusion, wrapping up the wagging tail with 3-41.
Michael Clarke and Ricky Ponting, who retires after this match, have both referred to the Test as a grand final, given it will decide the winner of the tight series which has preceded Perth with two draws – the winner of the match will go to number one in ICC world Test rankings.
Images via Getty