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A dogged last-wicket stand of 26 from Peter Siddle and Nathan Lyon made sure the tourists got past the lowest Test score of 26 by New Zealand against England in 1955 and Australia’s lowest of 36 against England in 1902.
South Africa had earlier been bowled out for 96 on a reasonable-looking wicket after the tourists had made 284 in their first innings with captain Michael Clarke scoring 151. Parts of all four innings took place on the same day as 23 wickets fell. Number 11 Lyon was Australia's top scorer in their second innings with just 14 after Tests debutant Vernon Philander took five for 15.
Wickets were falling so often it was hard to keep up as Ricky Ponting, Mike Hussey, Brad Haddin and Shaun Marsh all went for ducks.
All-rounder Shane Watson earlier destroyed South Africa's batsmen after lunch in an astonishing burst as the home side were dismissed for 96. South Africa had set off 55 minutes before lunch in search of Australia's first innings total of 284 and had reached a comfortable 49 for one at the break with Jacques Rudolph the only man out.
But Watson joined the attack immediately after lunch and stunned South Africa's leading batsmen with his spell of five wickets in 20 balls to end up with 5-17 off five overs.
In the first over after lunch, Hashim Amla was trapped lbw for three and Jacques Kallis edged a hook to second slip for a duck. Both decisions were given not out but overturned on review. Graeme Smith (37) then chopped the ball on to his stumps and Ashwell Prince (0) was trapped lbw by a yorker in successive deliveries. The all-rounder completed his third five-wicket haul when he trapped Mark Boucher lbw for four.
Ryan Harris gave Watson superb support with four for 33, claiming the wickets of AB de Villiers (8), Philander (4) and Imran Tahir (5) as well as Rudolph. Australia rode on the back of Clarke's dazzling 151 to post a respectable 284 all out in their first innings, having resumed on 214 for eight.
Brief scores: Australia 284 (M Clarke 151, D Steyn 4/55, V Philander 3/63) and 47 (N Lyon 14, V Philander 5/15, M Morkel 3/9) vs SA 96 (G Smith 37, S Watson 5/17, R Harris 4/33) and 81/1 (G Smith batting 36, H Amla batting 29)