November has only just started but the summer of Test cricket is already upon us.
Cricket has generated plenty of column inches lately, be it the umpteen books released by ex-Australian players in time for Christmas or the barbs being thrown in the media by both Steve Smith’s side and the visiting South Africans.
But now’s the time for the cricket to do the talking – starting when the first Test begins at the WACA in Perth at 1.30pm (AEDT) on Thursday.
The three-Test series begins a marathon summer of cricket in which New Zealand (one-day series), Pakistan (Test matches and one-day series) and Sri Lanka (Twenty20 series) will all visit our shores.
Australia has won just two of its six Test matches this year and a 3-0 thrashing in Sri Lanka in July and August was particularly disappointing.
The Aussies sit third in the ICC Test rankings, two places above a South Africa side which has also won just two Tests in 2016.
But it did thrash an under-strength Australia 5-0 in a one-day series through September and October, a result sure to fill it with confidence.
The Australian side
Mitchell Starc has overcome a deep skin laceration to his left leg and will spearhead Australia’s pace attack.
Peter Siddle won out in a battle with uncapped Joe Mennie for third spot in Australia’s pace attack and is one of two changes from the last Test, replacing spinner Jon Holland. Usman Khawaja has come in for all-rounder Moises Henriques.
Australia’s batting line-up is settled – if out of form – with David Warner to open the batting with Shaun Marsh.
The form of Warner and Smith will be crucial if Australia is to win the series and South African quick Dale Steyn has targeted the Aussie captain in the build-up, saying “if you can cut off the head of the snake [Smith], the rest of the body tends to fall”.
Full Australian team: David Warner, Shaun Marsh, Usman Khawaja, Steve Smith, Adam Voges, Mitchell Marsh, Peter Nevill, Mitchell Starc, Peter Siddle, Nathan Lyon, Josh Hazlewood
South Africa will hope the WACA wicket plays like it used to – full of pace and bounce – and not the docile track it has become as it is set to unveil a four-pronged pace attack, led by Steyn.
Aussie fans are well aware of Vernon Philander and Morne Morkel’s ability but 21-year-old Kagiso Rabada has never played a Test against Smith’s men.
He is a serious talent, though, having taken 29 wickets in eight Tests and is capable of bowling express pace.
With captain and star batsman AB De Villiers ruled out of the tour, Faf du Plessis steps into the leadership role.
He and Hashim Amla will be the key wickets for Australia.
Likely South African team: Stephen Cook, Dean Elgar, Hashim Amla, Faf du Plessis, JP Duminy, Temba Bavuma, Quinton de Kock, Vernon Philander, Morne Morkel, Dale Steyn, Kagiso Rabada.
If the last Test series between the two nations is anything to go by, this will be a fiery affair.
Michael Clarke infamously clashed with Steyn during that series, while du Plessis berated the Aussies for carrying on like a “pack of wild dogs” in the field.
Australia’s response to getting du Plessis out in Cape Town was to bark.
But there’s no question some players overstepped the line, as Chris Rogers revealed this week. He told the Herald Sun: “It just got a bit bitter and fiery in the last series and I don’t think anyone really enjoyed that.”
A ball has not even been bowled in anger and Steyn has singled out Smith while Philander has admitted his side might have to get “ugly” and “nasty”.
Pint-sized South African batsman Temba Bavuma (he is just 161cm tall) has dared the Aussies to bowl him bouncers, while Siddle said his side will “target the captain” and “the rest sort of crumble”.
Much has been made of Warner’s new approach to sledging, with some of his teammates even dubbing him ‘The Reverend’.
Let’s see how long that tag lasts. And bring on the cricket.