JOHANNESBURG: South Africa fly to Australia Sunday aiming to consolidate the position of No 1 Test team earned mid-year with a series triumph in England.
The Proteas won an eventful three-Test showdown 2-0 with then England skipper Andrew Strauss retiring after the series and Kevin Pietersen being temporarily banned for texting messages critical of his team-mates to South Africans.
Many of the triumphant South Africans were furious at the Pietersen drama, believing it diluted the media attention they deserved, and they became even angrier when the England batting star alleged he was set up by unnamed Proteas.
But South Africa skipper Graeme Smith says any lingering thoughts of England and Pietersen must be packed away as Tests in Brisbane, Adelaide and Perth loom with the first starting on November 9 at the Gabba.
“We knew tours to England and Australia were coming this year and both were going to be tough,” Smith said as the squad completed preparations for the trip down under.
“The first hurdle has been overcome and, obviously, we would like to do the same in Australia. We know we have got a quality team that has proved its ability to win away from home.
“I believe we have earned the right to go there with the mantle of being the No 1 Test team through the way we have played this year,” added the South Africa opening batsman.
Coach Gary Kirsten, who took over his native country after guiding India to victory in the World Cup last year, said the build-up for Australia was much the same as for England.
“We are going to make sure we prepare as diligently as possible, just as we did ahead of the England series. We don’t want to say too much because we would prefer our performances to speak for themselves.”
Smith rates the South African squad among the best to visit Australia, where they triumphed 2-1 three years ago in the last clash between the great sporting rivals.
Then South Africa coach Mickey Arthur now guides Australia, but Smith says he cannot afford to lose any sleep over that fact, lest it affects team preparations.
“If I lose sleep over what Mickey is telling Australia, then it is going to affect how we prepare as a team. How we adapt to the conditions will be much more important,” stressed Smith.
Much pre-series media attention has centred on the battle of the pace attacks with South Africans Dale Steyn, Vernon Philander and Morne Morkel and Australians Ben Hilfenhaus and Peter Siddle among the top 10 ranked bowlers.
“Brisbane and Perth could be quite fiery from the sound of things and how we adapt to what the conditions are going to be means a lot more than comparing coaches or teams,” said Smith.
The Proteas skipper said batsman-wicketkeeper AB de Villiers had received three weeks of treatment for a back injury and was expected to be ready for the opening Test.
After a three-day warm-up against Australia A in Sydney from November 2, the Brisbane Test begins on November 9, the second at the Adelaide Oval on November 22 and the last on November 30 at the Waca in Perth.