Australia will face one of cricket’s most hostile pace attacks when they play South Africa at Test level from Saturday for the first time since the infamous “Sandpaper-gate” series.
The tourists boast fast bowlers Kagiso Rabada, Anrich Nortje, Lungi Ngidi and Marco Jansen – all capable of firing 140kph rockets down the wicket at the Gabba in Brisbane.
That’s in stark contrast to the West Indies, who failed to trouble the hosts in a 164-run defeat at Perth followed by a 419-run hammering in Adelaide last week.
Steve Smith, who will hand back the Australian captaincy to a fit-again Pat Cummins, said meeting South Africa would be a “good challenge”.
“Hopefully we can continue the way we’ve started the summer,” said Smith, who will pad up against the visitors for the first time in red-ball cricket since he was sent home in disgrace after the cheating row of 2018.
Australia’s attempts to alter the ball using sandpaper in a Cape Town Test rocked world cricket. Smith and David Warner were banned for a year in the fallout.
Smith said that was all firmly in the past.
“The cricket we’ve played over the last four and a half years we’ve played in the right way, we’ve been hard and played in the right spirit,” he said. “So for us nothing changes, we’re just going to continue to go about our business and hopefully play good, entertaining cricket.”
While Smith is in sparkling form, hitting a double century against the West Indies, his batting average of 41.53 from nine Tests against South Africa is among his lowest.
But Smith said: “I feel in a good place, I feel like I’m batting nicely.”
After a double century and two tons against the West Indies, Marnus Labuschagne – who was born in South Africa – is also in electric form.
But Warner is on a lean run, failing to hit three figures in nearly two years.
He will play his 99th Test and will be desperate to make an impact.
The home side head into the first of three Tests without injured pace spearhead Josh Hazlewood, but have a worthy replacement in Scott Boland, who sent down a three-wicket maiden in Adelaide. He is expected to get the nod ahead of Michael Neser.
While South Africa’s attack is a real threat, their batsmen have struggled recently.
Only two, Sarel Erwee and wicketkeeper Kyle Verreynne, have made centuries in 10 Tests since the start of the 2021-22 season.
Captain Dean Elgar said he was expecting a feisty series.
“The individuals they have within their squad are pretty brash and bold – in-your-face kind of characters and that can work in our favour,” he told reporters ahead of the tour.
“I think that plays into our hands. We enjoy that confrontation as a group.”
Australia squad: Pat Cummins (c), Scott Boland, Alex Carey, Cameron Green, Marcus Harris, Travis Head, Usman Khawaja, Marnus Labuschagne, Nathan Lyon, Lance Morris, Michael Neser, Steve Smith, Mitchell Starc, David Warner.
South Africa squad: Dean Elgar (c), Temba Bavuma, Gerald Coetzee, Theunis de Bruyn, Sarel Erwee, Simon Harmer, Marco Jansen, Heinrich Klaasen, Keshav Maharaj, Lungi Ngidi, Anrich Nortje, Kagiso Rabada, Glenton Stuurman, Rassie van der Dussen, Kyle Verreynne, Khaya Zondo.
© Agence France-Presse