Australia arrive keen to remain No. 1
Ricky Ponting is hoping Australia will be able to regroup and beat South Africa in the manner that his team reclaimed the Ashes from England in 2006-07 after losing in 2005. South Africa recently won their first Test series in Australia and Ponting said the pressure would be on the hosts as the teams battled for the No. 1 spot in the ICC Test rankings.
"We want to be recognised as the best and being No. 1 does mean a lot to us," Ponting said on arrival in Johannesburg. "We were a long way off our best cricket in Australia and our worst cricket was very bad. We need to maintain a level of consistency but I am looking forward to the challenge.
"I remember at the end of the 2005 Ashes in England, when we lost for the first time in a long time, we went back to Australia and regrouped. England then came to Australia as favourites but they did not live up to expectation and could not handle the pressure."
South Africa captain Graeme Smith, however, felt his team would wear the favourites' tag comfortably. "It's going to be an unusual place to be for a South African team," Smith told the Sunday Times. "It's a great feeling and a reward for all the sacrifices everyone has made. But we know that Australians are very competitive people and they don't like to be on the back foot.
"On previous tours they have come here with confidence having had the foot on us right through the summer there and they've just carried it on. Now, even their experienced guys will come here in a different frame of mind, while the younger players are coming here for the first time. They're a touring team under pressure and it's never easy."
Australia open their tour with a warm-up game against South African Board President's XI in Potchefstroom from February 20 and their only fitness concern for that match is Michael Clarke, who sat out of the Twenty20 international against New Zealand on February 15 with a back problem. "We'll have to see how Michael's back is after the flight," Ponting said. "Hopefully he'll be okay. Everyone else is fully fit."
Australia go into the first of three Tests against South Africa in Johannesburg on February 26, three days after the end of the practice game.