Clarke aware of sizeable task

  • Last Updated: February 11 2014, 14:52 GMT

Australia captain Michael Clarke is under no illusions about the task facing his Ashes winners as they take on the best team in the world in their three-Test tour of South Africa.

Michael Clarke: Has already moved on from England whitewash
Michael Clarke: Has already moved on from England whitewash

Clarke and co whitewashed England 5-0 earlier this winter - setting in motion all manner of upheaval since then for Alastair Cook's team.

As Clarke prepares for the first Test against Graeme Smith's hosts at Centurion on Wednesday, however, he knows the trouncing of England is suddenly irrelevant history.

South Africa have, along with Australia, an outstanding pace attack - and as the International Cricket Council's top-ranked team, are unbeaten home and away in the last three years.

"That's why they are the number one team in the world," said Clarke, who likens them to the all-conquering Australia line-up he first played with almost a decade ago.

"They have been able to perform consistently at home and away from home over a long period of time - a little bit like the Australian team that I first walked into.

"The reason we were number one for so long was because we had as much success away from home as we did at home, and that's our greatest challenge as a team."

Victory in South Africa, by whatever margin, will not see Australia depose their hosts in those rankings.

But Clarke knows it would be a very significant achievement nonetheless.

"If we want to get back to being number one in the world, we have to have success away from home; we have to beat the best teams - and as tough a challenge as it is, we're excited about it.

"To be the best team in the world you've got to be able to adapt."

Australia were memorably unchanged throughout the Ashes but will not be at Centurion, having left batsman George Bailey out of their touring party.

Clarke is not a selector but gave an insight into the possible permutations as he sees them when he said: "There's three options - six batters, three fast bowlers, and 'Lyono' [Nathan Lyon], five batters and the all-rounder in Moises (Henriques), six batters and four fast bowlers - no spinner, and use myself and Steve Smith for that."

Uncapped Tasmania batsman Alex Doolan has replaced Bailey, in a largely familiar squad also containing a fit-again James Pattinson among the pace bowlers as well as batsman Shaun Marsh.

South Africa, whose 10-wicket victory over India in Durban gave them a 1-0 series success at the end of last year, are spearheaded by pace bowlers Dale Steyn and Vernon Philander.

They must demonstrate, however, that they can still be a truly dominant force even without Jacques Kallis after the great all-rounder's Test retirement.

However, their captain, Smith, is in no doubt either about who are the likeliest winners.

"If you're the number one team in the world, you have to be favourites,'' said the opener.

"It's something we've become accustomed to and very comfortable with over a period of time. We've been number one in the world and travelled to some tough places to get it firstly, and then to defend it.''

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