Australia captain Michael Clarke at a training session. (AP)
POTCHEFSTROOM, South Africa: Australia captain Michael Clarke has laid down the challenge to South Africa's bowlers to prove they are the world's best attack after suggesting on Friday his side owned that honour ahead of their three-match Test series starting on February 12.
The fast-bowling trio of Dale Steyn, Vernon Philander and Morne Morkel have played a leading role in catapulting South Africa to the number one Test ranking, but following their recent Ashes series whitewash of England, Clarke believes Australia's attack is even better.
"I'm a little bit biased, but in my opinion this Australian attack is the best in the world," Clarke told reporters. "From what I've seen from the Australian fast bowlers over a long period of time, I feel we have the best attack in the world."
Fast bowlers Mitchell Johnson (37 wickets in the five-match Ashes series) and Ryan Harris (22), off-spinner Nathan Lyon (19) and seamer Peter Siddle (16) led Australia's charge against England and are expected to continue in South Africa.
Clarke has predicted another tough series for the batsmen on both sides on what are generally sporty wickets in South Africa that provide an even battle between bat and ball. "I think it's going to be a tough tour for the batters. You have two very good bowling attacks. I don't know what the wickets are going to be like, but generally there is a bit in the wickets in South Africa."
Despite believing his side have the better bowling unit, the Australian captain does say the Proteas are favourites for the series, an admission perhaps that his side's batting remains a worry. "Being in South Africa's backyard, I would imagine they will be favourites but that doesn't bother us. We just need to continue to play the way we played through the Australian summer.
"We need to make sure we're scoring enough runs. We're up against a very good bowling attack. Our bowlers need to keep executing to take 20 wickets in a Test match. The South African batting line-up is extremely strong even without Jacques Kallis being in there."
Australia came in for some criticism for the sledging tactics adopted against England and although he says he expects there to be some "hard-fought" cricket in the series, the atmosphere is unlikely to have the same needle as the Ashes.
"I know Graeme Smith quite well and a lot of the South African players. There's a lot of mutual respect for both teams. You'll see some hard-fought cricket, but both teams get on very well off the field. You'll see both teams get together after the game for a few quiet beers."
Despite losing their last two home series to the Proteas, Australia have not been beaten on their last six visits to South Africa since the 4-0 mauling they received in the 1969/70 season. Australia will play a four-day warm-up match against a South African Invitational XI in Potchefstroom starting on Wednesday.