Johannesburg: Pace is shaping up to be the decisive factor in the first Test starting at The Wanderers on Friday, with Pakistan's pack of fast bowlers hoping to prove a handful for the South Africans in Johannesburg. South Africa have a strong batting line-up starting with their captain Graeme Smith, who will be captain for a mind-boggling 100th time, but it is undoubtedly their fast-bowling unit that gives them the advantage going into the series opener.
Pakistan will be up against the strongest pace attack in the world, and with a history of brittle batting overseas the onus will be on the line-up to prove it can bat for time. In the tour match against a South African Invitational XI the opening pair of Mohammed Hafeez and Nasir Jamshed did well in both innings but down the order only skipper Misbah-ul-Haw managed a half-century. Pakistan have not played Tests since July 2012, so there is also the fear of rustiness.
The injury that has ruled out experienced opener Taufeeq Umar is a jolt on the eve of the first Test; his place will most likely be taken by 23-year-old Jamshed, who was in terrific form in the ODI series in India and picked off two fifties in the tour game. The rest of the batting order will resemble that of Pakistan's previous Test series seven months ago, with Azhar Ali, Younis Khan, Misbah and Asad Shafiq to follow. Sarfraz Ahmed is the wicketkeeper for this tour, followed by the bowlers of which there will be a debutant in Mohammad Irfan.
Pakistan's biggest hope is their pace attack - Umar Gul, Junaid Khan and uncapped players Irfan and Ehsan Adil to go with reserves in Tanvir Ahmed and Rahat Ali. Junaid was excellent in the ODIs in India and has eight Tests under his belt, but it is the 7ft 1in Irfan that could prove the key against South Africa. With his height and ability to get the ball to bounce steeply, he is being seen as a big threat in helpful conditions. If the two meter tall Irfan can manage to swing the ball, he would become even more dangerous.
Man-to-man, where Pakistan have a big edge over South Africa is in the spin department. Saeed Ajmal had an excellent 2012 in Test cricket and has a proven record. On the other side, left-armer Robin Peterson is just starting to get a feel for Test cricket after playing three consecutive Tests after he was recalled last year for the first time since 2008. How Ajmal bowls to South Africa could prove a pivotal subplot while most of the focus remains on pace.
South Africa trampled New Zealand recently but know full well that Pakistan will prove a sterner test. They have batsmen in form, and will hope to give Smith a victory in his 100th Test in charge. Alviro Petersen has been passed fit for Johannesburg, and the success of fresher players like Faf du Plessis and Dean Elgar is big plus in the middle order.
South Africa's grandest stadium has not hosted a Test since November 2011. Going by the nature of the pitch and the pre-match talk, it looks to be the bowlers who will have the final say at The Wanderers.
Australia: 1 Graeme Smith (capt), 2 Alviro Petersen, 3 Hashim Amla, 4 Jacques Kallis, 5 AB de Villiers (wk), 6 Faf du Plessis, 7 Dean Elgar, 8 Vernon Philander, 9 Robin Peterson, 10 Dale Steyn, Morne Morkel
Pakistan: 1 Mohammad Hafeez, 2 Nasir Jamshed, 3 Azhar Ali, 4 Younis Khan, 5 Misbah-ul-Haq (capt), 6 Asad Shafiq, 7 Sarfraz Ahmed (wk), 8 Umar Gul, 9 Saeed Ajmal, 10 Junaid Khan, 11 Mohammad Irfan