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By Nick Said
PRETORIA, Feb 22 (Reuters) - An attacking half-century from Hashim Amla helped South Africa recover from the early loss of both openers as they reached 104 for two at lunch on the first day of the third test against Pakistan at Centurion on Friday.
The elegant Amla (50 not out) combined with Faf du Plessis (29 not out) to improve South Africa's position after they had been 38-2.
Captain Graeme Smith (5) and Alviro Petersen (10) both struggled early on as Pakistan's bowlers used the seamer-friendly conditions to their advantage inside the first hour.
The home side had been dealt a selection blow before the match when veteran all-rounder Jacques Kallis was forced out after picking up a calf strain while bowling in the nets on Thursday.
Kallis was replaced by debutant paceman Kyle Abbott as South Africa opted to weaken their batting line-up in favour of bolstering their attack on a bowler-friendly wicket.
Petersen's miserable series continued when he was trapped plum lbw by Rahat Ali, who returned to the side after missing the second test in Cape Town.
Petersen has now scored just 75 runs in five visits to the crease this series and was undone by a ball that pitched on middle stump and straightened back into him.
Smith battled for 47 minutes to reach five before he became debutant Ehsan Adil's first wicket in test cricket with just the third ball of the seamer's spell when a touch of away movement found his edge and looped towards Younus Khan at second slip.
Du Plessis arrived at number four in the place of Kallis and after a slow start crashed three boundaries off one Adil over to get his innings up and running.
It seemed to release the pressure and Amla began to play his shots as well, punishing any width offered by the Pakistan bowlers.
It took just 17 overs before off-spinner Saeed Ajmal was introduced but he was attacked immediately by the batsmen, who were eager not to let him settle after his 10-wicket haul in Cape Town.
Ajmal's four overs cost 20 runs as the Proteas pair used their feet well to launch him over the inner ring.
South Africa lead the three-match series 2-0 having won the first test in Johannesburg by 211 runs, before completing the series win with a four wicket victory in Cape Town. (Editing by Tom Pilcher; firstname.lastname@example.org +27832722948 Messaging email@example.com)