Johannesburg: South Africa's Graeme Smith will become the first cricketer in history to captain in 100 tests on Friday, when Pakistan begins its attempt to end the Proteas' lengthy unbeaten run.
On his 32nd birthday, Smith will lead South Africa out for the 99th time when the first test gets under way at the Wanderers, having also captained a World XI in a test against Australia in 2005.
South Africa is unbeaten in 11 test series, and has won its last five on the way to the top of the world rankings. But an improving Pakistan team is expected to present a significant challenge to that record.
Smith's latest milestone will be the focal point of the opening day, and he drew generous praise from South Africa's sports minister Fikile Mbalula on Thursday.
"He is in a league of his own," Mbalula said. "All South Africans are proud of him.
"Nothing was given to him; he had to work very hard for what he has. Graeme Smith represents what I call a paragon of human perfection."
Smith has a tendency to stand up to the big occasion, and scored a century in his 100th test last year during South Africa's resounding win over England at The Oval.
However the distractions of playing on home turf would be harder to deal with in Friday's test, he said, with Cricket South Africa encouraging a special celebration of Smith's achievement among the Proteas' fan base. Smith also announced this week that he was expecting a second child with his Irish pop singer wife Morgan Deane.
"Being in South Africa, the outpouring of emotion and love from fans and people wherever I've gone has been incredible," Smith said. "It's so difficult to put into words. I've been walking around in a constant buzz."
Pakistan has been slowly rebuilding its side after a match-fixing scandal in England in 2010 saw three of its players banned, and has lost just one of its last eight series since.
However the solitary defeat came in its last series, against Sri Lanka in June 2012, and it will come up against South Africa's much-vaunted pace attack on a testing surface.
"It's a challenge and I think this team has been able to take on challenges," Pakistan captain Misbah-ul-Haq said on Thursday. "We need to stand up and have some good performances."
Pakistan was dealt a blow in the lead-up to the series when it was confirmed that opening batsman Taufeeq Umar had been ruled out by a leg injury. Imran Farhat was promoted up the batting order in a warm-up match, and will fill in for the first test.
With the Wanderers pitch expected to provide its trademark pace and bounce, even after much of the grass was shaved off on Thursday, the tourists are expected to hand a debut to 7ft 1in fast bowler Mohammad Irfan.
"If you speak to any batters around the world, a guy that is two meters tall and the amount of bounce he can get is a scary thing," South Africa fast bowler Morne Morkel said. "It's not about the amount of pace but it's the awkward bounce from quite a fullish length."
South Africa have reported a clean bill of health after batsman Hashim Amla and left-arm spinner Robin Peterson both overcame injuries, and will consider fielding an all-pace attack.
All eyes will of course be on Smith, to whom the crowd will sing 'happy birthday' during one of the breaks in play on Friday.
"If I can help to motivate and encourage youngsters today to grow as big leaders tomorrow in their communities and societies and on the sports fields, that will be a really positive thing to come out of my experiences and the role that I've played," he said.