Proteas in Australia
SA, Oz in shoot-out for No 1
Brisbane - Pace-packed South Africa's number one world ranking is on the line in a mouthwatering Test series against an in-form Australia team that starts at Brisbane's Gabba on Friday.
The Proteas, who became the world's top side after an impressive 2-1 series victory in England earlier this year, are looking to repeat their historic series win in Australia four years ago against Michael Clarke's ageing side.
But the glittering incentive for the home team is that they can usurp South Africa and return to the top of the rankings with victory in the three-Test series, which also includes matches in Adelaide and Perth.
Skipper Graeme Smith said South Africa were taking strength from their first ever series win on Australian soil on their last tour, in 2008-09.
"Obviously, winning here four years ago certainly helps in the self-belief factor, knowing that you've overcome a hurdle before," Smith said.
"Winning in someone else's backyard, it's a tough thing to do and that challenge is something that excites us."
The Proteas will unleash their formidable pace battery, led by Test cricket's leading pair Dale Steyn and Vernon Philander and backed up by Morne Morkel.
The Gabba pitch traditionally offers early life and bounce, with the South Africans yet to win in three Brisbane visits, the last in 1963.
South Africa bowling coach Allan Donald spiced up the showdown series by declaring his country's current pace attack the best he had ever seen.
Donald in his prime was one of the most fearsome quicks in international cricket, ripping through opposition batsmen with partner Shaun Pollock but even he admitted the current crop was a league above.
The Proteas also boast a formidable batting line-up featuring the likes of Smith, Hashim Amla, Jacques Kallis, J.P Duminy and A.B. de Villiers.
Duminy said South Africa's batting depth was a key factor in their series win over England in August, which was de Villiers's first as a wicketkeeper-batsman following an eye injury to Mark Boucher.
"It definitely feels good," Duminy said. "I think it's helped a lot in the previous series. Hopefully it will pay dividends to us this time again."
Former Australian skipper and senior batsman Ricky Ponting has urged his side to embrace the daunting challenge of taking on South Africa, saying the home team, currently ranked third, are within touching distance of the world's best side.
Ponting believes his team-mates should not forget it was largely the same Proteas' line-up they defeated by two wickets in Johannesburg just 12 months ago to secure a share of the spoils in their two-Test series.
"It's really important for us as a group to realise just how close we are to them as a team," Ponting said.
"They're the number one ranked team in the world, and deservedly so, but we're breathing down their necks."
Australia go into the opening Test without influential all-rounder Shane Watson, who succumbed to a calf injury and was replaced by left-hander Rob Quiney, who will be making his Test debut.
Australia coach Mickey Arthur, who guided South Africa between 2005 and 2010, said his side remained highly confident of toppling the Proteas despite losing Watson.
Australia have won eight of their past 10 Tests, including a 4-0 whitewash of India at home during the last Australian summer.
"We are comfortable we have the players and we have the cover," Arthur said.
"We're relaxed, we're calm. I think the team is in a really good space.
"We're excited and really hungry for some success. We see this as a massive opportunity for us."