Not just a test, but ‘baptism by fire’ for the batsmen

Mickey Arthur predicts a torrid series between two of the top pace batteries in cricket and a genuine test of character for the batsmen when his Australia lineup hosts South Africa in three match series next month. Top-ranked South Africa's attack is led by Dale Steyn, Vernon Philander and Morne Morkel, also ranked Nos. 1, 2 and 9 in Tests.

Australia has Ben Hilfenhaus and Peter Siddle in the top 10 competing for spots in the starting XI with up-and-comers James Pattinson, Pat Cummins and Mitchell Starc, and veterans Mitchell Johnson and Ryan Harris.

Arthur is well placed to judge both teams, having been coach of South Africa for five years before a short break from international cricket and a move to Australia, where he was appointed last season as the first foreign head coach of the national team. "It's definitely the two best pace attacks in the world going head to head,'' Arthur said on Tuesday. "It's going to be about which top six (batsmen) can adapt better and which top six is going to be more consistent over a three-Test series.''

He forecast that the batting lineups "are in for a real baptism of fire and it's going to be a real good opportunity for some of our top six. If they come out on top after that, they can look forward to a really good, long Test career.'' Australia dominated Test cricket in the late 1990s and in the early 2000s but slipped to No. 5 in the rankings after back-to-back Ashes series losses to England before climbing back to No. 3.

Michael Clarke, who replaced Ricky Ponting as captain after Australia's quarterfinal exit at the 2011 World Cup, is confident it can regain the No. 1 ranking but is conscious that the biggest hurdle at the moment are the South Africans. The series starts on November 9 at Brisbane, and moves to Adelaide and Perth for the second and third Tests. Seam and swing bowlers usually revel in the conditions in Brisbane and Perth, which will make it even more challenging for Australia's emerging top-order batsmen like David Warner and Ed Cowan.

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