Clarke accepts SA favourites at home
Australia arrive for their tour of South Africa on the back of a rousing Ashes win and, although South Africa have never beaten the visitors at home since re-integration, Michael Clarke has picked the hosts as favourites for the series. Australia are scheduled to play three Tests and three T20s on their South Africa tour, beginning with the first Test on February 12.
"Being in South Africa's backyard, I would imagine they will be favourites," Clarke said in his first press conference after landing in South Africa. "But that doesn't bother us."
The last time Graeme Smith's side lost a series was nearly five years ago, when Ricky Ponting led a new-look Australian team. Since then, South Africa have established themselves as undeniably the best Test outfit in the world. The recent form of touring teams also seems to suggest that South Africa have the advantage. In 2013, Zimbabwe were the only side to lose Tests at home and Australia, too, had a torrid time on their tours of India (0-4) and the Ashes in England (0-3).
"It will be a great challenge to come to South Africa and play the No. 1 Test team in the world," Clarke said. "We know we have to be at our best to have success."
The biggest challenge for Australia will be South Africa's pace trio of Dale Steyn, Vernon Philander and Morne Morkel, one of the strongest bowling attacks in recent times. Australia have reasons to be buoyant, though, after their Mitchell Johnson-led attack turned in one of the great series performances in the 5-0 drubbing of England.
"I think it's going to be a tough tour for the batsmen," Clarke said. "You have two very good bowling attacks. I don't know what the wickets are going to be like, but generally there is a bit in the wickets in South Africa."
Clarke, though, tipped his bowlers as the better unit: "I'm a little bit biased, but in my opinion, this Australian attack is the best in the world. What I've seen from the Australian fast bowlers over a long period of time, I feel we have the best attack in the world.
"I have said that, statistically the South African attack is unbelievable. They love their own conditions and they have had a lot of success here. They are going to be extremely tough to face."
Australia have only one warm-up match to get to grips with the South Africa surfaces. Their training in Potchefstroom was also curtailed by rain.
"It's about getting used to the conditions, but if we can play a similar brand of cricket to what we played in Australia, then I think we can have some success over here," he said. "It is important we get some good preparation and training in so we need this rain to disappear."
The tour kicks off with a four-day practice game against a South African Invitational XI starting Wednesday.