Mickey Arthur has been surprised by Tim Nielsen's comments ahead of South Africa's arrival in Australia © Getty Images

South Africa's coach, Mickey Arthur, has reacted with bewildered amusement to the recent outburst from opposite number Tim Nielsen in which he claimed Arthur and Graeme Smith had been "talking themselves up" and accused the South Africa coach and captain of "cheap talk."

"Initially I thought he must have been misquoted but apparently not," Arthur said. "I'm intrigued to know where we have talked up our chances, where did Tim see these quotes? All Graeme and I have ever said is that we are happy with our squad and we believe we have players capable of succeeding in Australia.

"We have also said that beating Australia on home soil is the hardest job in cricket and that, despite the retirement of several legends of the game, we expect this tour to be just as hard as ever. Australia always find a way - just when you think there is a chink in their armour, they close ranks and prove you wrong.

"I have great respect for Tim, for Australian cricket and for this Australian team. Neither Graeme nor I regard ourselves as favourites and I certainly won't be drawn into any conversation which could be regarded as 'cheap'."

Nielsen's comments appear to be a break from Australia's general tradition over the last decade and a half where only its superstars have made bold media statements while the coach and the 'mortal' players remain below the parapet.

"We came to expect McGrath and Warne to 'target' certain players and to say they were going to hammer us," Arthur said. "They made those statements because, by and large, they were good enough to back them up. Maybe it's become an Aussie tradition to make these big statements before an important series but, to be honest, it doesn't sound quite the same coming from the coach, does it?"

On South Africa's last tour to Australia three years ago, Smith deliberately made three or four headline-grabbing statements as a ploy to divert attention away from a young and inexperienced squad. The intention was to allow his players to concentrate on cricket without media distractions.

"There won't be any of that this time," Arthur said. "Graeme and I are both naturally honest and open people, we both enjoy and respect the media and appreciate the fact that their job is to give the series a bit of hype, get people excited. Maybe that's what Tim was doing, just giving the media a helping hand."

Neil Manthorp is a South African broadcaster and journalist, and head of the MWP Sport agency