Little mystery, much anticipation
Match factsNovember 9-13, the Gabba
Start time 1000 (0000 GMT)
So Australia has a dossier on the South Africa team. So what? One of the trends of 21st century international cricket is that battles between nations now contain so few elements of the unknown. It should not be forgotten that these two sides played each other over a pair of uproarious Test matches only a year ago in Cape Town and Johannesburg, the series shared 1-1. Between then and now Australian and South African players have shared dressing rooms at the IPL and the Champions League, opposed each other again at the World Twenty20 and tried to prepare as best they can for a Test series with only one warm-up fixture in most cases.
But the lack of secrets to be divulged ahead of the first Test does not detract from the prospect of another meeting between two teams to have produced some of the most memorable Test encounters of recent times. South Africa's first visit to the Gabba in 49 years offers the prospect of plenty that is hair-raising, mainly for batsmen up against six of the world's best fast bowlers, but spectators too. Graeme Smith's side is settled and well grooved, their XI set in near enough to stone from the moment their plane touched down in Sydney last week. Smith himself is fired by the desire to ensure South Africa's hold on the ICC's top spot is not as fleeting this time around as it had been in 2009.
Australia, meanwhile, seek further proof of their rejuvenation. The Test team has not played together since April, and they may be forgiven for blinking just as much as the rest of the world at the fact they have the chance to unseat South Africa from their perch atop the rankings. The fact they have a chance of doing so is the best indicator of how far the team has developed under Michael Clarke's captaincy since the 2011 tour of Sri Lanka, as over that period the team has won three series, drawn two and shown the importance of incisive bowling to cover for a top six that on paper cannot match South Africa's. Line these two sides up and the visitors look to have a clear advantage. But contests between these teams have never been decided that way.
Form guide(Most recent first)
South Africa WDWDW
In the spotlight
Called on to take the gloves in unfortunate circumstances in England, AB de Villiers' back grew stiffer with each match, and his batting contributions were handy rather than dominant. He has had more time to rest and prepare for taking the gloves in this series, and will be eager to prove that as wicketkeeper he can still make the kinds of scores that marked him as one of the world's best and most dangerous batsmen.
David Warner has escaped much of the scrutiny attached to his opening partner Ed Cowan, but with only one half century in his past eight innings needs to prove his hyper aggressive methods can work consistently at Test level. West Indies and England both did well against Warner earlier this year by pursuing a rigid line and length angled across him towards the slips, while the opener's tendency to get involved in verbal confrontations will also have been noted by South Africa. Shane Watson's injury leaves Warner the most senior batsman in the Australian top three.
Ben Hilfenhaus, Mitchell Starc and Nathan Lyon are duelling for two spots. Hilfenhaus led the attack with Peter Siddle last year but has only played one first-class match since April. Starc has been a dominant Twenty20 bowler but is still coming to grips with the red ball. Lyon has few wickets behind him entering the Test and forecast Gabba rain may keep the pitch fresh and the pace bowlers dangerous throughout. Ricky Ponting has shrugged off a hamstring niggle.
Australia (possible): 1 Ed Cowan, 2 David Warner, 3 Rob Quiney, 4 Ricky Ponting, 5 Michael Clarke (capt), 6 Michael Hussey, 7 Matthew Wade (wk), 8 Peter Siddle, 9 James Pattinson, 10 Ben Hilfenhaus/Mitchell Starc, 11 Nathan Lyon.
South Africa's team is settled, and likely to be unchanged from the XI that defeated England at Lord's to take the series and top spot on the ICC's rankings.
South Africa (possible): 1 Graeme Smith (capt), 2 Alviro Petersen, 3 Hashim Amla, 4 Jacques Kallis, 5 AB de Villiers (wk), 6 Jacques Rudolph, 7 JP Duminy, 8 Vernon Philander, 9 Morne Morkel, 10 Dale Steyn, 11 Imran Tahir.
Pitch and conditions
The Gabba curator Kevin Mitchell jnr. has predicted a slightly drier surface than that prepared for last year's Test against New Zealand, increasing the likelihood of a fifth day finish and the involvement of the spinners. However some cloud and rain is predicted over the next five days, and Clarke admitted on match eve he was now considering four quicks more seriously.
Stats and trivia
- South Africa will retain top spot on the ICC Test rankings with a drawn series. Australia will claim top spot from them with a series win
- This is South Africa's first Test match at the Gabba since 1963
- Michael Clarke needs 55 runs to go past Neil Harvey, another fleet-footed batsman, on Australia's all-time list of Test run scorers
"We know how good South Africa is and respect them for it but we also know we can beat them. We are confident in our ability to beat anyone, anywhere, any time if we play at our best."
Michael Clarke strikes a confident note
"We have looked at areas that we can exploit within the Australian team as they would do with us. We feel that if we can put pressure on them in certain areas then we can make some plays in those big moments, that is ultimately what the Test series is going to boil down to."
Gary Kirsten on South Africa's planning.
Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here