The first test in this three-match series begins in Brisbane on Friday (12am GMT) with the travelling South Africans arriving in Australia as the number one ranked test nation.
Michael Clarke’s Australian side have been through a period of transition after the retirement of top players and these three games will tell the cricketing public just how far the team has progressed.
Australia could climb to the top of the test rankings themselves with a 3-0 victory in this series but while that seems unlikely, Clarke’s men will be more competitive than these odds might suggest. The last time South Africa came here in 2008-09, they won in Australia for the very first time in their history but that was against a weaker side who were struggling to come to terms with the loss of Shane Warne, Glenn McGrath and others.
A more trustworthy area of current form comes from the recent, two match series in South Africa which resulted in a 1-1 draw in 2011. The games were as close as this scoreline suggests and the upcoming series is set to take place between two equally, evenly matched sides.
Australia have, however suffered an injury blow ahead of the game after the withdrawal of in-form all-rounder Shane Watson. His place will be taken by the uncapped Rob Quiney and it results in an inexperienced top three of Warner, Cowan and Quiney that South Africa’s bowlers will look to target.
This will be a key area of the test and the trio’s ability to cope with Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel is likely to influence the final outcome.
While Steyn and Morkel are vital in South Africa’s bowling department, the key batsman is undoubtedly Hashim Amla who was the complete run machine on his country’s recent tour of England. Amla’s efforts included a career best 311 not out and while the remaining batters didn’t exactly rely on one man, his early wicket will be crucial if Australia are to get a positive result.
Bowling is one area where the tourists seem to have the edge over their hosts and while South Africa have a settled unit, Clarke’s side seem unsure as to who their best line up is. An injury to Pat Cummins leaves Clarke with a young opening attack of Mitchell Starc and James Pattinson while Peter Siddle and Ben Hifenhaus provide the experience.
Australia will need to decide whether to play spinner Nathan Lyon on a pitch that should offer more to the seamers. The hosts are reluctant to drop a main spinning option but Clarke and David Warner can bowl back up overs and Lyon isn’t a huge threat at this level.
Overall, the teams are evenly matched except in the bowling department but on home soil, the Australian batsmen are capable of building big totals. The problem lies in taking 20 South African wickets to win a game and for that reason, the draw seems a likely outcome in the first match of the series.