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Smith relishing pace challenge

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This is a good challenge for this group to keep that (unbeaten record)

Australia captain Steve Smith. Picture: Etienne Rothbart

Steve Smith is looking forward to “lots of good short-pitched bowling” when Australia’s quick bowlers and their South African counterparts step out for four Tests next month.

The Australians begin preparations for that series this week with a three day tour match in Benoni against an SA A side. The speed gun will no doubt be given a working over with seven bowlers, across the two teams, capable of pushing the ball through at over 140km/* .

“I think its great, I’m excited by it,” said the Australian captain. “You love going up against the best bowlers from around the world and South Africa have two, who bowl with good pace; (Kagiso) Rabada and (Morné) Morkel. (Vernon) Philander’s done what he’s done, where he challenges your defence for long periods of time.

“The batters should be looking forward to this series … you love going up against good pace, this will be a fantastic series for the viewers to watch.”

In Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood and Pat Cummins, Australia have the armoury to ensure South Africa won’t simply ask for pace and bounce when pitches are prepared as is the case when teams from the sub-continent tour here. Smith said he kept a close eye on the drama that unfolded here during the recent Test series with India, but he was keen that his players would not make a fuss about the pitches.

“It looked quite difficult for the batters in the Indian series, but for us it’s just about playing what’s in front of you, whether it’s a flat wicket, a green wicket that’s doing something or a wicket that’s up and down, you’ve got to adapt to what’s in front of you and do the job,” said Smith.

Play like you need to

“My message to the boys is ‘you don’t know what you’re getting for each Test at each venue, it’s about playing the way you need to play for each set of conditions’,” he said.

Which may be a little easier for Smith than it is for others. The Australian captain, a bit like the Indian captain Virat Kohli, who’s been carving South Africa to pieces in recent weeks, is in excellent form, despite a two week break after the Ashes series. Against the English he racked up 687 runs in seven innings at an average of 137.40.

Despite the number of different faces in this current side compared to four years ago, when the Australians last toured here, Smith drew comparisons between the 2013/14 series and the upcoming one. “It was a really successful tour (2013/14) off the back of what was a similar summer for us, with the way we played against England. A few of the circumstances coming here are similar, obviously.”

Australia won that series 2-1, thanks to some magnificent quick bowling from Mitchell Johnson and superb batting by Smith, former captain Michael Clarke and current vice-captain David Warner.

They haven’t lost a series in this country since South Africa’s return from international isolation, a record Smith is keen to maintain.

“Coming to South Africa the conditions are the most similar to what you get in Australia, it’s probably the most similar for two countries in the world. This is a good challenge for this group to keep that (unbeaten record).”

SCHEDULE

First Test: Kingsmead, March 1-5

Second Test: St George’s Park, March 9-13

Third Test: Newlands, March 22-26

Fourth Test: Wanderers, March 30-April 3