First one-day international, Melbourne:
South Africa 272-7 (49.3 overs) beat Australia 271-8 (50 overs) by three wickets
Morkel took 2-58 before smashing an unbeaten 40 from 18 balls
South Africa edged out Australia in the first of their five-game one-day international series in Melbourne.
Opener Shaun Marsh led the way for the Aussies with 79, adding 94 with Ricky Ponting (46) while David Hussey smashed a rapid 52 as the hosts made 271-8.
South Africa lost early wickets before JP Duminy (71) and Neil McKenzie (63) added 123 for the fourth wicket.
But although Australia hit back, Albie Morkel (40 not out from 18 balls) saw them home with three balls to spare.
With injured captain Graeme Smith missing the one-day series, spinner Johan Botha led a Proteas side that was still missing AB de Villiers through injury, although Jacques Kallis was fit to return.
When Ponting won the toss and elected to bat first, Mike Hussey was elevated to open the innings with Marsh but made just six before he was caught behind off Dale Steyn.
But Marsh and Ponting both benefited from being dropped - with Ponting put down at square leg by debutant Vaughn van Jaarsveld when he had made 33.
Ponting's luck ran out when he edged Botha to keeper Mark Boucher, while Michael Clarke - back after a thumb injury forced him to miss both Twenty20 internationals - made just 19.
Marsh, dropped by McKenzie, was joined by David Hussey, who was playing only his sixth ODI.
But the tourists' fielding continued to disappoint as the junior Hussey was grassed by the unfortunate Van Jaarsveld when he had made just 10 - and went on to make South Africa pay with his third international fifty.
Hussey and Victoria team-mate Cameron White, in front of their home fans, cheered the Melbourne crowd with an entertaining stand - while some lusty hitting from Brad Haddin and Nathan Bracken helped the Aussies score 48 from the last five overs.
In reply, Proteas opener Hashim Amla edged Shaun Tait onto his stumps in the second over, while Herschelle Gibbs made 22 before another inside edge saw him fall to Ben Hilfenhaus.
Kallis had made 41 from 49 balls when he tried to pull left-arm spinner Clarke to the mid-wicket boundary but looked embarrassed as a quicker delivery knocked over his off stump.
But that brought McKenzie and Duminy together for some careful accumulation - Duminy's 71 did not include a single boundary - and the Proteas were looking comfortable at 213-3, with 59 needed from 55 balls, when Duminy spooned Bracken to White at mid-wicket.
Marsh led the way for Australia with 79 at the top of the order
Suddenly, Australia had a foothold - and were unquestionably back in the game when they picked up three more wickets in successive overs.
Tait yorked Boucher first ball with a fast inswinger, while Van Jaarsveld completed a debut to forget after he was run out, having appeared to tangle with Bracken when attempting a quick single.
When McKenzie guided Hilfenhaus to Ponting at mid-wicket, South Africa needed 51 from 38 balls as Botha joined Morkel - but the Proteas still had their batting powerplay remaining, which they took at the start of the 45th over.
And while only a single came off the first over, the decision to delay taking that powerplay paid dividends as with the field up, Morkel's clean hitting evoked memories of his heroics at the World Twenty20 in 2007, while stand-in skipper Botha provided sterling support.
The 48th over, bowled by Hilfenhaus, was plundered for 18 runs, and although Bracken bowled tightly, a couple of fumbles in the outfield meant just two runs were needed from the last over, from which South Africa made no mistake.
"We got that group of wickets which put us ahead, but we probably need to work on how we can bowl to Albie Morkel in a powerplay," Ponting said.
Man-of-the-match Morkel added: "I was really happy to see the team through and make sure I was there at the end."
The series continues in Hobart on Sunday.
The world's three leading news agencies are not covering the series because of a dispute with Cricket Australia.
Reuters, Agence France-Presse and Associated Press have suspended all coverage of the 2008-09 season.
Their photographers and reporters did not supply material from within the ground. As a result, we cannot use pictures from the current match.