Teams go for spin but Steyn the key
Dale Steyn and his fast-bowling colleagues have attracted all the attention but both teams have taken a conservative approach by leaning towards including a spinner on the bouncy WACA pitch. However, while Jason Krejza will definitely play and Paul Harris is almost certain, the bulk of the early work in Perth is likely to fall to pace attacks spearheaded by Steyn and Brett Lee.
Makhaya Ntini is nominally the leader of the South Africa fast-bowling unit but the younger and quicker Steyn and Morne Morkel have been talked up having both enjoyed outstanding success in 2008. Their biggest trial for the year is about to begin and Ricky Ponting believes it will be hard for the two men, neither of whom has played a Test in Australia, to live up to the hype.
"A lot of the pressure will come back on to them," Ponting said in the lead-up to Wednesday's first Test. "I've said the last couple of days and to our group in particular, there's been a lot said about their bowlers and as yet they're unproven in Australia. Sure, Steyn's had a great year, 60 Test wickets is a terrific effort. But you've got to do it here, when it counts in the big moments of Test matches. That's what we're gearing up for."
In a rare hint of agreement between the two captains, Graeme Smith conceded that it had been tough for Steyn, 25, to adjust to being viewed as an international superstar after his brilliant year. Smith said Steyn was still developing and he backed his fast man to deal with his success level-headedly.
"Anyone would be slightly affected by the amount of hype that has been around a person," Smith said. "But generally he's quite a calm, chilled-out guy off the field and I think he takes everything in his stride. With the rise to success that he's had over the last year it's something that he's had to learn to deal with, it's become a part of his life."
Steyn, Morkel and Ntini are likely to be backed up by the spinner Harris, although South Africa kept their options open by including the uncapped left-arm fast man Lonwabo Tsotsobe in a 12-man squad to be finalised on the morning of the match. There was no such fence-sitting for Australia, who confirmed Krejza would play his second Test having been picked ahead of Shane Watson.
The attack takes on a fresh look with Krejza and Peter Siddle each playing their second Test after debuting in India. Ponting said with Stuart Clark out injured for the rest of the summer Siddle, 24, had a terrific chance to confirm his place in Australia's fast-bowling future.
"There's a great opportunity for him," Ponting said. "I've said from the start I like a lot about what he does. He's a pretty simple sort of bloke that really likes bowling and having that younger, fresher face around the team at the start of a series like this will be a good thing for us."
Brydon Coverdale is a staff writer at Cricinfo