Marnus Labuschagne reaches another Test half century. Image: cricket.com.au

Marnus Labuschagne and Usman Khawaja have batted Australia into a strong position on Day one of the Third and final Test as rain and bad light have added to South Africa’s frustrations.

Pat Cummins won his third toss of the series and chose to bat first on a muggy and gloomy morning at the SCG.

Anrich Nortje was again the heartbeat for the Proteas, claiming the two Australian wickets that fall.

Here are the moments that mattered from Day one at the SCG:

Selection intrigue on both sides as Renshaw tests positive for COVID

Both the hosts and the tourists held their cards pretty close to their chests regarding selections. Australia was expected to make forced changes due to injuries to Mitchell Starc and Cameron Green, while the South Africans were looking to change things up after the heavy defeat at the MCG.

Both additions to the squad, Ashton Agar and Matthew Renshaw found their way into Australia’s starting XI for the first Test match of 2023. Agar, a regular member of Australia’s limited overs set up has not played a Test match since 2017 and will play his first Test on home soil.

Matthew Renshaw, who played his last Test match against South Africa in the fourth Test in 2018 after Sandpapergate, also returns to the national side after a stint at Shield level. The Queenslander’s return however was marred by a mystery illness shortly before play and later returned a positive RAT Test for COVID-19.

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Victorian captain Peter Handscomb, who was not named in the squad for this Test but was named on the team sheet as a substitute fielder this morning, is on standby and can replace Renshaw in the XI if he feels worse under ICC regulations.

Handscomb, who hasn’t been seen at international level since the 2019 Cricket World Cup Semi-Final vs England and last played Test cricket at the SCG Test in 2019 against India, has enjoyed a prolific couple of seasons for Victoria.

Josh Hazelwood, who has been absent, injured since the first Test in Perth returned to the XI in place of Scott Boland.

The Proteas made one forced change with Theunis de Bruyn returning home for personal reasons, and Heinrich Klassen became the third South African batter to bat at number three this series. The tourists also opted to choose a second spinner for the match with left-arm orthodox Simon Harmer chosen in place of speedster Lungi Ngidi.

Australia watchful, South Africa wasteful with new ball despite an early breakthrough

The Proteas struck an early blow to the hosts when they got an early wicket, removing the dangerous David Warner. The left-hander, fresh off a double century in his 100th Test last week at the MCG, got away to a fast start before slashing at a good length delivery off Anrich Nortje which travelled comfortably to the waiting hands of Marco Jansen at first slip.

It was a watchful start from then on from Australia, who safely negotiated the first hour of play.

Usman Khawaja, who had been short of runs this series was determined to absorb the early pressure and spend some time in the middle, guiding Australia to 1/30 at the first drinks break.

Much like the second Test at the MCG, the Proteas seamers length’s was too short. With minimal assistance from a slow wicket, allowing the Australian batters to tick the scoreboard over. Khawaja and Marnus Labuschagne put on a 50-run stand and looked increasingly comfortable in the dark and gloomy conditions at the SCG as the lights came on.

Skipper Dean Elgar threw the ball to his spinners before the Lunch break which almost proved fruitful. Simon Harmer found some drift and turn in his first over, bowling around the wicket to Usman Khawaja, as the light continued to fade at the SCG as the players went to lunch.

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Elgar’s tactics called into question again as runs flow after a brief Harmer spark

South Africa had Australia and the scoring rate under control heading into the Lunch break. The brief spell from Harmer prior to lunch looked threatening.

The spinner thought he had Khawaja in the first over after lunch when he trapped him in front and was given out on field, but had the decision overturned on DRS with the ball crashing into the left-hander’s glove.

He continued to look threatening, challenging both edges of Khawaja’s bat, and looked the most likely of any of the South African bowlers as the rain threatened.

Elgar, whose tactics and captaincy have been questioned all tour, despite his left-arm orthodox bowler proving to be one of the most threatening, made a bowling change at the Paddington end, replacing Harmer with Kagiso Rabada. The paceman, who has been down on pace and lacked oomph all series, relieved the pressure that was building up on the Australian batters as the runs began to flow after lunch.

Marnus Labuschagne brought up his 14th Test 50 with a stylish pull shot for four as the Australians scored 70 runs in the opening hour after the resumption from Lunch.

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Protea hopes sink further as Marnus gets another slice of luck

In a tour that has gone bad to worse quickly for South Africa, there was no sign of their luck beginning to turn on day one at the SCG either.

Labuschagne edged a ball behind off Jansen which looked to have been well caught in the slips by Simon Harmer. The Australian, who was on 70 and racing to another Test century, stood his ground before waiting for the umpires to come together and consult. They sent it upstairs for a further look with the soft signal given out.

The decision was then overturned on replays from third umpire Richard Kettleborough, deeming the ball had touched the grass before going into Harmer’s hand. Labuschagne was so confident it was going to get overturned, he was back with his gloves on and marking centre before the not-out decision was flashed on the big screens around the SCG.

It was more controversy to add to a drama-filled day as it looked like it was more out than not out with many pundits and commentators finding it hard to see how the third umpire came up with the decision to overturn the soft signal.

Usman Khawaja brought up his half-century shortly after, continuing his love affair at the SCG. The left-hander, fresh off twin centuries at the ground last year, brought his live batting average at the SCG above 100.

Bad light stopped play shortly after the opener brought up the milestone with persistent rain and further bad light forcing the players off the ground for an extended period.

Nortje undoes Labuschagne with raw pace in the small window of resumption

After a lengthy delay and one thwarted attempt at getting back out to play before the umpires deemed it was still too dark, play resumed in the late evening at the SCG. It proved to be short and sharp, but it was fruitful for the tourists, who opened up with their pace bowlers and were able to take a big scalp back into the changerooms.

Looking to re-set himself after the delay, Anrich Nortje bowled and found Marnus Labuschagne’s edge with a rising delivery off a good length which was successfully pouched by wicketkeeper Kyle Verreynne.

The wicket fell at the end of the over, and the umpires converged at the fall of the wicket, Steve Smith had made his way out to the middle and was about to take his guard before the umpires decided to take the players off again for bad light.

Stumps was called not long after as the rain started falling again with Australia 2/147.

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