Potchefstroom, SA: Michael Clarke got right down to it on Friday, challenging South Africa's top-ranked fast bowlers by rating his own Ashes-dominating Australia attack as the best in the world.
In his first public comments in South Africa ahead of a three-Test series between the world's strongest sides on current form, the Australia captain answered easily when asked if he felt Australia's bowlers were better than the Proteas'.
"Yup, I certainly do," Clarke said. (Also read: Michael Clarke opts out of IPL auctions to ease workload)
Clarke's feelings are fortified by Australia's destruction of England's batting lineup in a 5-0 Ashes whitewash, where left-arm quick Mitchell Johnson took 37 wickets in the five tests and four of the five best-performing bowlers in the series were Australians.
"Maybe I'm a little bit biased but in my opinion this Australian attack is the best attack in the world," Clarke said. "Statistically, the South African attack is unbelievable, there's no doubt about that, and they love their own conditions and they've had a lot of success here ... but in my own opinion, from what I have seen from the Australian fast bowlers over a long period of time, I feel we have the best attack in the world."
South Africa's opening bowlers are the top-ranked in tests, with Vernon Philander at No. 1 and Dale Steyn at No. 2.
But Johnson's figures from the Ashes — 37 wickets at an average of 13.97 and with a best of 7-40 — show he is in lethal form. Ryan Harris took 22 wickets and Peter Siddle 16, while Australia also has a threatening spinner in Nathan Lyon and bowled England out for less than 200 in six of 10 innings in the series.
South Africa continues to struggle to find a consistent slow bowler to complement its fast bowling trio of Philander, Steyn and Morne Morkel, and dropped Imran Tahir for this series.
Also permanently missing for South Africa for the first time in nearly two decades is Jacques Kallis, the veteran allrounder who retired after the series win over India late last month.
South Africa has to replace its best player ever in this contest and find a new balance, while Australia is completely settled after picking the same 11 throughout the one-sided Ashes win.
"No team will ever be able to replace such a great player," Clarke said of Kallis' absence. "I think the South African batting lineup is extremely strong even without Jacques being in there but Jacques would be a big loss to any team."
Australia is up against a five-year unbeaten run by South Africa. Yet, Australian trips to South Africa have been productive over the last 20 years. Australia was the last team to beat South Africa in a test series, here in 2009, and has won four and drawn two of its six series in South Africa since 1994.
"I'll imagine they'll be favourites but it doesn't bother us. If you want to write in your article that we're favourites, I don't mind that either," Clarke told reporters.
The teams play tests at Centurion starting on Feb. 12, Port Elizabeth from Feb. 20 and Cape Town from March 1. Australia begins with a four-day warm-up game in Potchefstroom next week.