Australia capitalised on some charitable South African fielding to set the Proteas a challenging 272 for victory in the opening one-day international at the MCG on Friday.
After winning the toss, Australia reached 271 for eight in ideal conditions for batting on the back of half-centuries from international rookies Shaun Marsh and David Hussey.
Marsh, who top-scored with a measured 79 off 97 balls, was the cornerstone of Australia's innings early before Hussey accelerated the home side's run rate, hitting 52 at better than a run a ball.
The Proteas, however, gave several reprieves to the home side and will feel they could have restricted Australia to less than 250.
Vaughn van Jaarsveld dropped two chances on his one-day international debut, grassing Ricky Ponting and Hussey, while Marsh was handed a lifeline by Neil McKenzie late in his innings.
Out of form on the domestic front, Marsh justified the faith shown in him by national selectors, striking his fourth half-century from only nine one-day matches. His knock, which included only four boundaries, was largely risk-free but he did not have to be streaky.
He was overshadowed initially by Ponting, with whom he shared a 94-run stand after the early dismissal of Michael Hussey, who was elevated to the top of the order. Ponting's preparedness to hit over the infield reaped handsome rewards but was not without good fortune.
Lucky not to be run out before he had scored, Ponting was given another life on 33 when put down at square leg by Van Jaarsveld. But Ponting's luck ran out on 46 when he was removed by opposite number Johan Botha.
Van Jaarsveld's second missed chance proved more costly for the Proteas, as Hussey was otherwise largely untroubled. After being dropped in the deep on 10, Hussey punished the South African attack. He put on 49 off only 47 balls with Bushrangers team-mate Cameron White, who made a brisk 21, but was out shortly after passing 50.
Despite Hussey and White falling within six balls of each other, Australia were still able to add 48 off the final five overs thanks to some lusty strikes from Brad Haddin and Nathan Bracken.