Neil McKenzie, the South African batsman, feels the current Test team is experienced enough to deal with the pressure during the upcoming three-Test series in Australia, but says the players will need to be at their best to challenge the world's No. 1 Test side. South Africa haven't ever beaten Australia in Australia, and haven't won a series against them since readmission.
"The [current South African] team is pretty settled; there are players who have been there a long time and have a great deal of experience," McKenzie told Business Day. "So I believe we will have far more maturity and will be much better able to deal with the kind of pressure the Australians always dish out."
Australia have seen quite a few retirements in the last two years, including that of Glenn McGrath, Shane Warne and most recently, Adam Gilchrist; however, McKenzie said they shouldn't be taken lightly. "The Australians are never vulnerable. Sure they have lost a couple of really good players in Shane Warne and Glenn McGrath - and no team loses players of that calibre without feeling it. But any team wanting to beat them is still going to have a huge battle on its hands."
South Africa have struggled against Warne in the past, and they would be relieved not to face him this time. "His absence is a huge factor. The spinners they have tried since he departed have not come close. But they still have a very good pace attack in guys like [Brett] Lee and [Stuart] Clark."
McKenzie was a member of the team that was whitewashed 3-0 on the 2001-02 tour, where he played as a middle-order batsman. Out of the Test side for nearly four years, he returned this year to establish himself as an opening partner to captain Graeme Smith, including a record first-wicket stand against Bangladesh. McKenzie felt the team lacked in experience on the last tour. "They [the Australians] were full of players at the peak of their careers or reaching the end of their careers - the Waugh brothers, for instance," he said. "So it was a pretty big ask to beat them, yet Graeme [Ford] was fired after that series because we lost. I thought it was a bit tough."
McKenzie scored 224 runs in six innings on that tour. Since his return against West Indies in the New Year's Test, he has scored 960 runs in ten Tests at an average of 64.
South Africa's Test itinerary against Australia is similar to the one in 2001-02: they play three Tests away before hosting Australia for three in February-March. Led by Smith, the South African Test side has had a successful 12 months, with away series wins against Pakistan, Bangladesh and England; home wins over New Zealand and West Indies; and a drawn series in India.