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MELBOURNE - Australia's bowling woes were painfully obvious as a record 180-run stand for the ninth wicket allowed South Africa to claim a 65-run advantage on the first innings in the second test on Sunday.

After finally bowling the Proteas out for 459 late on day three at the MCG, Australia reached 0-4 at stumps, still trailing by 61 runs.

Resuming on 7-198 in reply to Australia's first innings of 394, the tenacious tourists punished Australia's depleted attack with JP Duminy hitting 166, his maiden hundred in his second test.

Victorian Peter Siddle led Australia's attack with 4-81 while spinner Nathan Hauritz took 3-98 and Mitchell Johnson returned figures of 2-127.

Australia's attack was depleted by pace spearhead Brett Lee's absence with a foot injury. Lee had scans done at a Melbourne hospital.

While a team spokesman was unable to give a detailed assessment of the NSW quick's injury, Lee's fitness for the third and final test in Sydney starting on January 3 must now be in doubt.

The 180-run stand between Duminy and paceman Dale Steyn (76) was a record for the ninth wicket in tests between Australia and South Africa and the third-highest ninth-wicket partnership in test history.

Duminy's seven-and-a-half-hour innings included 18 fours in a stunning performance by the 24-year-old left-hander who is in the side as a replacement for injured vice-captain Ashwell Prince.

Steyn, who took 5-87 in Australia's first innings, went in at 8-251 and scored a career-best 76 in four hours despite several blows to the hands from Australia's pace bowlers.

All-rounder Andrew Symonds, who carried a knee injury into the match, didn't bowl until the 125th over and took 0-14 from 11 overs with his off-spinners.

Needing a win to level the series at 1-1, Australia's bowlers lacked any venom on what was admittedly a flat pitch. The home side's fielders didn't help, missing Steyn three times.

Steyn was dropped on 32 by Ricky Ponting in slips and missed by Mike Hussey looking into the sun at mid-on one run later. Spinner Nathan Hauritz grassed a return catch on 57.

Australia's initial breakthrough before lunch on came from the unlikely source of part-timer Hussey, who took his first wicket in his 33rd test when Paul Harris (39) was caught at long-on.

Steyn was finally bowled by Siddle after tea at 9-431. Duminy was last man out at 5.10pm (local time) caught at backward square leg sweeping off Hauritz.

- AAP