Proteas, beware of Ponting
Centurion - Australia's captain Michael Clarke is expecting great things from his predecessor Ricky Ponting in the one-day series against South Africa that starts on Wednesday.
"Ricky's very experienced and talented and I believe he still has a hell of a lot to offer Australian cricket in both ODIs and Tests," Clarke told a news conference on Tuesday.
"I have a feeling he's on the brink of one of his best series' in his whole career. He batted well in Sri Lanka, he made runs for Tasmania last week and, watching him in the nets, I wouldn't be surprised if he's the man of the series and the leading run-scorer."
Top-order batsmen Shane Watson, who has a hip problem, and Shaun Marsh (shoulder) did not take part in a fielding session on Tuesday and Clarke said they would be assessed again on the morning of the match.
"There's still a chance they'll play. We won't pick the team until tomorrow morning, so that gives them another 24 hours and time for us to make the right decision and the smart decision with three ODIs and the Tests to play, because they're both very important players for us."
South African conditions traditionally suit fast bowlers and Australia have three promising young pacemen in their squad in Pat Cummins, 18, James Pattinson, 21, and 19-year-old Mitchell Marsh, backing up the established duo of Mitchell Johnson and Doug Bollinger.
"I'm really excited because there's plenty of talent there. Conditions in South Africa probably favour the pace bowlers more, although we do still have a couple of spin options," Clarke said.
"Pat Cummins is a very exciting young prospect, he's quite fast, he moves the ball and he has great knowledge of fast bowling for an 18-year-old."
Despite a disappointing World Cup, when they lost to eventual champions India in the quarter-finals, Australia are still ranked No 1 in ODIs by the International Cricket Council (ICC). Clarke said it was a ranking they wanted to maintain but it would be tough against a top-class South African team.
"There's no doubt we're aware of the number one ranking and very proud of it. We want to be number one in all three formats, but we're coming up against very tough opposition in conditions they enjoy," Clarke said.
The Australian captain said the absence of AB de Villiers, with a broken hand, was a major blow for South Africa, with Hashim Amla taking over the captaincy for the first time in ODIs.
The new captain will have to handle the revised playing conditions for ODIs, which include the use of two balls in each innings and a stipulation that the bowling and batting powerplays must be taken between the 16th and 40th overs.
"The two new balls will have a huge effect, as will not having a powerplay between the 10th and 16th overs, but the team is diverse enough to handle it. The bowlers have been doing well and we're very excited to see how the new rules play," Amla said.
South Africa's squad is packed with spinners - off-spinner Johan Botha, leg-spinner Imran Tahir and slow left-armer Robin Peterson, as well as useful part-timers in JP Duminy and Faf du Plessis - but the lack of an obvious death bowling specialist could leave them vulnerable.
"The death overs are probably the most tense time for me," Amla admitted. "But I found in the T20s that as long as the bowlers have a plan it's okay. You can't control everything and things aren't always going to go according to plan, so you can't take it to heart too much. It's a matter of damage control and Morne Morkel and Dale Steyn have done well for us, and Lonwabo Tsotsobe too, even in the powerplay overs."