Perth - Australia are pinning their hopes on wounded strike
bowler Mitchell Starc and familiar home wickets as they look to halt a wretched
run as their three-Test series against South Africa starts on Thursday.
Starc will wear a knee pad to protect deep cuts on his left
leg and his condition will be closely monitored by medical staff after he
collided with training equipment in September, needing 30 stitches.
He has been rushed back into action after Australia were
routed 3-0 in Sri Lanka in July-August to lose their top Test ranking, and were
then hammered 5-0 in a one-day series in South Africa to complete a miserable
few months on the road.
While the Proteas are missing their influential skipper AB
de Villiers with an elbow injury, they have won their last two Test series in
Australia, putting the hosts under added pressure ahead of the series opener in
Much will depend on the potency of left-arm spearhead Starc
and improved resolution from their under-fire batsmen to turn the tables,
starting with the Test series against South Africa followed by a further three
Tests against rejuvenated Pakistan.
Starc, who has taken 115 wickets at 27.36 in his 28 Tests,
said he was ready to lead Australia's attack even though he is still recovering
from his accident and needs to re-dress the wound every day.
"It's not bleeding, it's healing nicely," said
Starc, whose knee pad will allow him to slide and dive while fielding.
Starc sat out the one-day humiliation in South Africa
earlier this month and along with fellow new-ball partner Josh Hazlewood offers
Australia a strong bowling attack.
"We'll all be trying to crank it up. I'll be trying to
bowl as fast as I can," Starc said.
"Just because they've got Dale Steyn ... and Kagiso
Rabada bowling fast doesn't mean we haven't got anyone to match that."
Australia's batsmen will also have to step up after
struggling on spin-friendly pitches in Sri Lanka, with much focus on skipper
Smith, opener David Warner and prolific middle-order batsman Adam Voges.
Australia are ranked third behind India and Pakistan in
Tests with South Africa down to five after winning just two of their last 12
But South Africa have not lost in three Tests at the WACA
Ground and are looking forward to setting the tone for the remainder of the
series by winning again in Perth.
"It's nice to come here with that feeling that you have
done well here before," Steyn said.
"To walk into a venue where you feel comfortable is
always exciting so we are really looking forward to it."
Steyn, who has taken 416 wickets in 84 Tests, once again
stands as South Africa's chief bowling threat along with newcomer Rabada,
Vernon Philander and Morne Morkel.
"Rabada's really quick and he's got a great head on his
shoulders. He's always looking to learn and his record (29 wickets at 24.44
from eight Tests) is pretty amazing for such a young guy," Steyn said.
South Africa's batting still appears strong even without de
Hashim Amla (563 runs at 70.37), Temba Bavuma (332 runs at
66.4), stand-in skipper Faf du Plessis (257 at 51.4) and Quinton de Kock (308
at 77) have all been in form this year.
There will be added interest in how the once pace-friendly
WACA pitch plays this week after last season's high-scoring attritional draw
with New Zealand.
Australia posted 559 for nine declared yet were beaten in
the first innings as New Zealand rattled up 624. Starc, Hazlewood, Mitchell
Johnson and Nathan Lyon were all taken for bowling "centuries".
Australia (from) - David Warner, Shaun Marsh, Usman Khawaja, Steve Smith (capt), Adam Voges, Mitchell Marsh, Peter Nevill, Mitchell Starc, Peter Siddle, John Hazlewood, Joe Mennie, Nathan Lyon.
South Africa (from) - Faf du Plessis (capt), Kyle Abbott, Morne Morkel, Hashim Amla, Temba Bavuma, Stephen Cook, JP Duminy, Dean Elgar, Quinton de Kock, Vernon Philander, Kagiso Rabada, Rilee Rossouw, Dale Steyn.