Michael Clarke scored a defiant unbeaten 73 to save Australia the blushes as he steered his team to 267 for six on a keenly contested opening day of the third and final Test against South Africa in Sydney on Saturday.
Australia, staring at a rare series whitewash, were tottering at 162 for five when Clarke and stumper Brad Haddin (38) joined hands to resurrect the innings with a 73-run partnership for the sixth wicket.
Fast bowler Dale Steyn removed Haddin late in the day to tilt the balance slightly in South Africa's favour on an engrossing opening day's play at the Sydney Cricket Ground.
However, by the time Haddin began his walk back to hut, Australia had reached a position from where they could continue their fight to save their number one ranking in Test cricket.
Australia were pegged back by a top-order failure with Hayden's awful run continuing and Ponting falling for a duck while none of the other batsmen could hang around for long.
The visitor's attack fired in unison with each bowler accounting for one Australian scalp in the first five wickets after the hosts decided to bat on winning the toss.
Vice-captain Clarke took on the responsibility on his shoulders to lift the team from a precarious position with his fighting knock which helped the home team to claw back into the game to some extent.
Clarke capitalised on a dropped chance at the score of 12. He charged down the pitch to left-arm spinner Paul Harris, did not get the elevation but was fortunate to stay as Makhaya Ntini failed to pouch the chance.
Clarke struck nine fours in his 151-ball knock and was holding the fort with pace spearhead Mitchell Johnson (17) when stumps were drawn for the day.
Haddin played a superb supportive role to Clarke with his 79-ball 38, which included four fours and one shot over the fence. Opener Hayden, under tremendous pressure following his prolonged form slump, scored 31 and with Simon Katich provided Australia their first 50-run plus opening partnership in the series.
Katich, who dominated the 62-run opening partnership, scored a 52-ball 47 with five boundaries before being separated from his opening partner. South African all-rounder Jacques Kallis had him caught at second slip by Ab de Villers.
Disaster struck for the hosts five balls later when paceman Morne Morkel sent back in-form Ponting, having him caught behind by Mark Boucher.
Hayden and Michael Hussey, who is also struggling for runs, ensured the hosts did not suffer more jolts as they stitched together a 46-run stand for the third wicket.
South African fast bowlers -- Steyn, who took two wickets, Ntini and Morkel -- swung the ball nicely and kept the Australian batsmen on their toes.
Spinner Harris got his first wicket of the match when he had Hussey (30) caught by Kallis.
Debutant Andrew McDonald made his way to crease ahead of experienced Haddin and did look jittery initially. He could score just 15 after spending a little more than an hour at the crease, facing 54 balls.
Johnson, coming down at number eight, showed determination and scored a brisk 17 off just 21 balls, helping himself with four fours.
Both Johnson and Clarke have a daunting task to take their team to a fighting total and have to play out of their skins when they take guard tomorrow morning.