South Africa (the Proteas) begins its 2012/2013 tour of Australia (the Baggy Green) with a three-match Test series. As with all Australia v South Africa fixtures, this series is bound to excite with surprises, controversy, and some good cricket.
The last time Australia and South Africa played each other was during a remarkable two-Test series in November 2011.
In the first match, Australian captain Michael Clarke scored an exceptional 151 before South Africa were bowled out for just 96. What followed is still spoken about with shaking heads and raised eyebrows in Australia: the Baggy Green slumped to 47 all out, Australia's lowest Test innings total in 109 years. South African captain Graeme Smith and top batsman Hashim Amla then recorded quick centuries to close out a win for South Africa inside three days.
The second Test was more closely fought and only slightly less dramatic. After a see-sawing match of fast run-scoring (for a Test, anyway) and quality bowling, particularly from newcomer fast bowlers Vernon Philander (for South Africa) and Patrick Cummins (for Australia), Australia squeezed out a narrow victory by two wickets.
It's also worth noting that the last time South Africa visited Australia, in 2008-2009, they completed a 2-1 series win and took over as the number-one-ranked Test cricket team in the world - a mantle they have since lost and regained.
- 1st Test: Australia v South Africa at The Gabba (Brisbane), November 9-13 (drawn)
- 2nd Test: Australia v South Africa at Adelaide Oval (Adelaide), November 22-26 (drawn)
- 3rd Test: Australia v South Africa at WACA Ground (Perth), November 30-December 4 (SA won)
South Africa won the series 1-0.
A lot of the same players that took part in the 2011 series remain part of the Australia and South Africa Test teams in 2012. Still, there are a few new names in the mix.
- Michael Clarke: The former boy wonder is now Australia's captain and seems to have elevated his batting to a new level since taking on the role. His boyish looks belie a battle-hardened approach and great mental strength. If Australia are to win the series, Clarke will need to score plenty of runs.
- James Pattinson: Australia's battery of young fast bowlers is impressive, but Pattinson is arguably the most talented. He bowls at over 140 kmh (87 mph) and hits the pitch hard from a height, extracting steep bounce and plenty of seam movement. He also has the benefit of surprise as most South African batsmen haven't faced him before.
- Matthew Wade: As Australia's new wicketkeeper, replacing the ageing Brad Haddin, 24-year-old Wade is under pressure to perform. He isn't the most capable 'keeper in the nation - that accolade would probably go to Queensland's Chris Hartley - but he is a good batsman and has time on his side.
- Hashim Amla: The highest Test run-scorer for South Africa this year, and now holder of the highest Test score by a South African, Amla is the batting trump card for the Proteas. His wristy elegance and impeccable timing are matched by a calm at the crease, which the Australians are apparently going to attack with sledging. If South Africa win this series, Amla is likely to play a major part.
- Dale Steyn: A nice guy off the pitch, Steyn becomes a demon on it as he attacks hapless batsmen with fast, swinging deliveries. He's the best bowler in the world today (according to the Reliance ICC Player Rankings) and already has a place among the best pacemen cricket has ever seen.
- AB de Villiers: One of the most talented all-around sportsmen in this cricket era, de Villiers is taking up the wicketkeeper's role for South Africa in this series in addition to batting at number five. It's a huge workload for anyone, but he has the skill, fitness and temperament to pull it off.
Battle of the fast bowlers
Both Australia and South Africa have quality fast bowling attacks capable of performing well on Australia's bouncy pitches. It seems a matter of when they will get into the groove, rather than if, as both sets of bowlers proved during that bizarre first Test last year. Aspiring young quicks would be wise to watch their lengths and seam positions for a fast bowling masterclass.
Will Australia's opening combination work?
In the absence of injured talisman Shane Watson, Australia have chosen David Warner and Ed Cowan as their opening pair for the first Test. Warner (attacking) and Cowan (defensive) have only played 16 Tests between them and Cowan in particular has a lot to prove after a slow start to his career. On top of that, debutant Rob Quiney is coming in at three, so the barrage of South African pacemen have a trio of relative newcomers in their sights at the top of the Australian batting order. South Africa, meanwhile, have a settled and proven opening pair in Alviro Petersen and captain Graeme Smith. This is the starkest difference between the two teams and could prove critical to the series.
Spin bowling on the fringe
The specialist spinners on both sides - Nathan Lyon for Australia and Imran Tahir - are hardly renowned forces in world cricket, though Lyon has a better record in Tests. There's no doubt that Australian pitches favour tend to favour fast bowlers but if the three Tests get into the fourth and fifth days, they could break up and offer some extra turn to these two. Australian captain Clarke might even bowl a few overs, as might South Africa's JP Duminy. In this Australia v South Africa series, though, pace is the key.