Australia 121 for 5 (Smith 35, Stoinis 24*, Nortje 2-21) beat South Africa 117 for 9 (Markram 40, Hazlewood 2-19, Zampa 2-21, Starc 2-32) by five wickets
Abu Dhabi: Australia made hard work of chasing 119 to beat South Africa in a tense opening Super 12 game of the T20 World Cup.
Marcus Stoinis and Matthew Wade added an unbroken 40 as Australia won by five wickets with two balls to spare in Abu Dhabi.
Steve Smith made 35 from 34 balls after Australia slipped to 38-3.
South Africa earlier laboured to 118-9, Aiden Markram hitting a fluent 40 and Josh Hazlewood, Adam Zampa and Mitchell Starc taking two wickets apiece.
In the day's later game England bowled defending champions West Indies out for 55 to start their campaign with a six-wicket win in Dubai.
Although expectation of high scores failed to materialise in the first match between two of the bigger sides after a week of qualifying, this game served up a nervous finish with Australia's victory not certain until Stoinis hit the second ball of the final over for four.
However, there was precious little atmosphere among a sparse crowd, with only a handful of Australia and South Africa fans alongside the locals.
Australia went into the game having lost 15 of their past 21 T20s, but they were never seriously threatened by South Africa, a late wobble with the bat aside.
They were excellent with the ball, bowling a consistent line and length to restrict South Africa, albeit with the help of some poor shot selection and chaotic running.
Hazlewood's accuracy brought him the wickets of Rassie van der Dussen and Quinton de Kock - the ball spinning off his thigh pad and into the stumps - after Glenn Maxwell, opening the bowling with his off-spin, skidded one through captain Temba Bavuma.
Pat Cummins was stringent in conceding just 19 runs in four overs, while leg-spinner Adam Zampa went for only 21 and broke South Africa open with the wickets of David Miller and Dwaine Pretorius in the same over.
Left-armer Starc struggled at times - he leaked 32 runs - but Australia seem to have all areas covered with the ball. Their death-over ability was untested and will face sterner tests against tougher opposition.
Australia lost Aaron Finch, caught at deep third, and David Warner, taken at backward point, in the powerplay of their chase before Mitch Marsh fell cheaply.
Smith and Glenn Maxwell, fresh from scoring 513 runs in the Indian Premier League, put on 42 for the fourth wicket but fell in the space of three balls to leave Australia 81-5 in the 16th over.
That equation became 36 from four overs, but Stoinis and Wade helped Australia scrape over the line.