Johannesburg: The chance of displacing Australia as the top-ranked Test side in world cricket will give South Africa added motivation to triumph in the home series starting at the Wanderers on Thursday.
Most pundits would rate Graeme Smith's South Africa clear favourites. They have a batting unit which, with the exception of opener Neil McKenzie and Jacques Kallis, is in rude health, their fast bowling trio is considered by many to be the best in the world, and spinner Paul Harris proved in Australia that although he is not yet a match-winning slow bowler, he can take important wickets regularly.
The victory in Australia gave the Proteas a belief that they can now beat a foe which has for years dominated world cricket. That realization is important for the series ahead, even if it can be argued that the loss of several veterans to retirement since last year and the absence through injury of two experienced bowlers in Brett Lee and Stuart Clark, has made Australia an even "easier" proposition to beat.
Australia find themselves in a position where their current best available team might struggle to beat nations like South Africa and India, whose test combinations have gelled and become effective units in recent years. When the Australians have gone through a similar process and developed the rookies now in the team, they can expect to challenge again.
Despite their dip in form, Australia is still ranked the top Test side in the world, although the Proteas only need to win the home series to take that title.
Smith would like nothing more than to complete the double of away and home series triumphs against the Aussies in one year.
"We got a lot of confidence out of Australia and you can sense that confidence in the dressing room," Smith said Wednesday.
But he cautioned against getting carried away by the success in Australia. "There is a very brief turnaround to enjoy what happened in Australia and now it is a case of feet back on the ground and getting down to the job again.
"Our focus is on playing better cricket than Australia in this series. We feel we are capable of (beating them) but it is going to take some tough work."
If South Africa manage to overtake Australia at the top of the test rankings late next month, they will be ranked top in both the five-day and one-day formats of the game, and earn prize money of US$350,000.
"It is a sign of the success we have had if we get there (to No. 1)," Smith said. "We can basically look ourselves in the face and say we deserve to be there. We have won on every continent over the last period of time and I think it is a really satisfying feeling for any team and for any player. But it is still a very long way away and we know Australia are really competitive with world-class players and they are not going to give it to us easily."
South Africa will use the same team that played in all three Test matches in Australia.
Meanwhile, the touring side omitted spinners Bryce McGain and Nathan Hauritz when naming a match squad of 12.
Marcus North seemed to beat all-rounder Andrew McDonald in the race for the No. 6 spot in the batting order, on the basis of performances in a three-day warmup game that ended Sunday. North's inclusion seems all the more likely given that he is a handy spinner, coupled with the fact that batsman Michael Clarke's spinning role could be limited due to a long-standing back niggle.
Australia may have won the last test series in South Africa in 2006 3-0, but they no longer have the services of experienced hands like leg-spinner Shane Warne and fast bowler Michael Kasprowicz, making a repeat all the more difficult - and unlikely.
South Africa (likely):Graeme Smith (capt), Neil McKenzie, Hashim Amla, Jacques Kallis, AB de Villiers, JP Duminy, Mark Boucher (wk), Morne Morkel, Paul Harris, Dale Steyn, Makhaya Ntini.
Australia (likely): Phillip Hughes, Simon Katich, Ricky Ponting (capt), Michael Hussey, Michael Clarke, Marcus North, Brad Haddin (wk), Mitchell Johnson, Peter Siddle, Doug Bollinger, Ben Hilfenhaus, Andrew McDonald.