Aussies v Proteas: Key head-to-heads

Dale Steyn (Gallo)
Dale Steyn (Gallo)

Cape Town - We are just a few days away from a Test series that comes with more hype than most.

Alarm clocks will be set ahead of the 04:30 start throughout South Africa on Thursday morning as cricket fans look to sneak in the opening session of the first Test at the WACA before heading to work.  

The Proteas have won their last two Test series in Australia - in 2008/09 and 2012/13.

Despite this, they will be considered underdogs for this one based on the fact they are fifth in the Test rankings, two places behind the Aussies. 

Hashim Amla, Faf du Plessis, Quinton de Kock, Dale Steyn, Vernon Philander and Kagiso Rabada provide the star-power for the Proteas while a glance down the list of Aussie names suggests a batting line-up that could be vulnerable if the South African bowlers get going. 

As is the case in any Test match, there will be mini-duels that help determine the overall winner. 

Here, we look at what some of those key battles might be throughout the course of the series. 

Steve Smith v Faf du Plessis

The battle of the skippers. We had a taste of this rivalry when the Proteas smashed the Aussies 5-0 in the recent ODI series in South Africa.

This, though, is a different challenge entirely. 

Du Plessis is standing in once more for the injured AB de Villiers, but he has responded incredibly well to the leadership in all formats so far. 

It seems that Du Plessis is getting the most out of his players. An ethic of hard work and accountability has made for a positive mood in this Proteas camp and it has translated into some much-improved performances. 

If he can pull this off, then it will be hard to ask him to step back down when De Villiers returns.

Outside of leadership, this is also a crucial battle when it comes to scoring runs. 

Smith is considered the best batsman in this Australian team and Du Plessis must quickly find the best possible way of combating that threat. 

Faf du Plessis (Getty)

Mitchell Starc v Dale Steyn

Steyn, hopefully, is over his shoulder injury and will be able to crank it up throughout the series.

Despite his proven success, the Proteas linchpin arrives in Australia under a fair deal of pressure. 

It may have been a different format, but Steyn was far from his best in the ODI series and there are some who think that he may be past his prime. This is the time for him to prove those doubters wrong. 

Starc, meanwhile, is Australia's ace with ball in hand. He is returning from injury himself, but has made a full recovery and has featured in the Sheffield Shield as preparation. 

There are obviously other bowlers, but these are the two guys who will be handed the ball whenever their captains are most desperate. 

How they go could have a huge impact on who wins this series. 

Dale Steyn (Getty)

David Warner v Kagiso Rabada

There is a good chance that Rabada won't take the new ball. That, in all likelihood, will go to Steyn and Vernon Philander. But when Rabada does bowl, he will be targeted. 

The Aussies have said as much, and it could be some fun watching South Africa's quickest bowler being targeted by Australia's most aggressive batsman. 

From the very beginning, Rabada has looked like he belongs on the international stage and he remains one of the most exciting prospects in world cricket. 

Like Steyn, he was disappointing in the ODI series. 

Despite being just 21, Rabada has a really good head on his shoulders. He doesn't get nervous, never feels flustered and always backs himself. 

That mental strength is sure to be tested Down Under, and nobody will test it more than Warner. 

Kagiso Rabada (Gallo)

Australian attack v Quinton de Kock

The more you watch him play, the more you realise that De Kock has the ability to single-handedly win cricket matches. 

Throughout the ODI series and now in the warm-ups, De Kock has looked other-worldly at times. 

He will be batting at No 7 for the Proteas and that looks increasingly the perfect position for him in the Test arena given that he keeps wicket too. That is where Adam Gilchrist batted for the Aussies, and De Kock has shown enough to suggest that he should be viewed as just as much of a threat. 

If he gets going, De Kock can change the course of a match in no time. That makes him a prize wicket for the Australians. 

Quinton de Kock (Getty)

Nathan Lyon v Keshav Maharaj / Tabraiz Shamsi

Just how much of a role the spinners play in this series remains to be seen, but it is an area where the hosts surely have the advantage. 

The Proteas have two uncapped spinners in Keshav Maharaj and Tabraiz Shamsi, while the Aussies boast a 57-Test veteran in Nathan Lyon. 

The fact that the Aussies would have seen very little of either Maharaj or Shamsi could be seen as an advantage for the Proteas, but in a series like this the experience of bowling long, accurate spells is surely more beneficial. 

The Proteas could go into the WACA Test without a front-line spinner, backing a four-pronged seam attack instead, leaving JP Duminy with that responsibility once more. 

Tabraiz Shamsi (Getty)

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