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Caught short in race to top

Graeme Smith plays a cover drive. Click for more photos

Day one, first Test - Australia v South Africa

South Africa bat first as the battle for the world No.1 ranking starts at the Gabba in Brisbane. Photo: Getty Images

Australia's fast bowlers, so ferocious last summer and so full of bravado leading into this one, fell flat at the Gabba on Friday, letting two of the world's most formidable batsmen off the hook.

Hashim Amla and Jacques Kallis were in an unforgiving mood as they led South Africa to 2-255 at stumps.

In this heavyweight series to decide the No. 1 ranking, both captains said the successful team would be the one that seized the key moments.

Peter Siddle agonises over what might have been against Hashim Amla.

Peter Siddle agonises over what might have been against Hashim Amla. Photo: AP

The Australians failed to grasp two golden chances in the last session, when fast bowler Peter Siddle let Kallis, on 43, off the hook with a front foot no ball then couldn't hold onto a caught and bowled chance from Amla, 74.

The first turn of good fortune for the home side came when No. 7 batsman J.P. Duminy injured his ankle during the warm-down and was carted from the field, then taken to hospital. But Australia's young spearhead James Pattinson, the only paceman to taste success on a docile pitch on day one, summed up the mood in the Australian dressing room when he said: ''I saw him getting carried off but I'm just worried about getting Amla and Kallis out.''

Pattinson said the unusually tame Gabba pitch was no excuse for the Australians' lacklustre bowling, which contrasted sharply with their hostile brand of fast, full swing bowling to destroy India's revered batting order last summer.

''We can make excuses but we lacked a bit of penetration and a bit of consistency. When the wicket is not playing how you want it, with a bit of movement and a bit of pace, you just want to dry up as much as you can, and we didn't do that,'' Pattinson said.

''We were definitely too short early on and that can happen coming into big games, with plenty of nerves flying around, you want to try to get the ball in the right areas. There was a bit of luck, Sidds' no ball and another dropped catch, and a few early on with the DRS referral system, it could have been a different day but in the end we just lacked that bit of consistency to put them under pressure.''

It's hard to recall a more dispiriting start to a home summer than the one inflicted by Amla (90 not out) and Kallis (84 not out) at a ground where Australia hasn't been beaten for almost a quarter of a century.

Siddle looked down on pace and short of the dangerous length that made him such a menace last summer.

When he did create chances, they went begging, allowing Kallis, who is closing in on 13,000 Test runs, and Amla, who on Friday passed 5000, to continue their free-scoring innings.

Ben Hilfenhaus, coming off a disjointed preparation because of his trip to the Champions League, looked nowhere near as dangerous as he was last summer, despite his respectable figures, and Pattinson's short and fiery spell to capture the wicket of South African captain Graeme Smith in the morning session was the highlight on a thankless day for the bowlers after Smith won the toss and batted.

The Australians preferred off-spinner Nathan Lyon to left-arm paceman Mitchell Starc in the final XI, despite Lyon's ordinary early-season domestic form and Starc's liking of the Gabba conditions.

Lyon enticed Petersen into driving a catch to mid-on, where he was caught by Mike Hussey for 64, but Amla and Kallis both lifted the off-spinner for six as he went for a tick over five runs an over.

Australian captain Michael Clarke was forced to turn to Test debutante Rob Quiney, who was economical allowing just seven runs from his six overs, but he was unable to break through for his first international scalp as the light faded and an early stumps was called.

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