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Pace trios the key in South Africa tour

By AAP .
6 January 2014 07:32PM EST

AUSTRALIA'S three-Test tour of South Africa next month is set to decide who has the premier pace attack in world cricket.

Michael Clarke believes he will be taking the world's best Test attack on the plane with him.

The Australian skipper told his pace trio of Mitchell Johnson, Ryan Harris and Peter Siddle as much before the first Ashes Test of the summer and then declared it publicly after completing an astonishing five-nil whitewash on Sunday.

He has reason to be cocky - with Johnson's 37 wickets at 13.9 securing man-of-the-series honours, while Siddle and Harris combined for a further 38 scalps.

But his faith will be tested against South Africa, who for three years have indisputably held the mantle as the world's premier pace attack.

Led by the fearsome Dale Steyn, who boasts the incredible record of 350 wickets at 22 runs apiece, the Proteas quicks are a mighty force.

Vernon Philander, recently installed as the No.1 ranked bowler in Test cricket, reached 100 wickets quicker than any fast bowler in nearly 40 years.

He won't terrify batsmen in the same way the express pace of Steyn or Johnson can but through guile and swing he's become one of cricket's most prolific wicket-takers.

The 28-year-old has a slightly better record than Harris, who has 93 wickets at 21.5, while the third seamer of each attack is almost entirely on par.

Morne Morkel and Siddle both have 183 wickets, while the Australian has done it in two less Tests.

Of course, no current bowler can match Steyn's numbers - though Johnson's dramatic improvement in the Ashes series elevates him into the conversation.

After watching his crew systematically dismantle England's batting through five Tests, Clarke was in no doubt about their quality.

"It's easy to have plans (but) it takes skill and courage to be able to execute them," he said.

England's batsmen had no answers to the consistent barrage they copped from Johnson, Siddle and Harris, but would they prefer to have been facing Steyn and co?

Coach Andy Flower found it difficult to separate the attacks of Australia and South Africa.

"I would say that (Australia's attack) is up there, somewhere. Close to South Africa's yes," Flower said on Monday.

Flower said one aspect of Australia's attack which was underrated, was the effectiveness of Shane Watson as a fourth seamer - a luxury South Africa will not have following the retirement of champion allrounder Jacques Kallis.

Kallis finished with 298 Test wickets, leaving an enormous hole in the bowling lineup.

"And I thought (Australian offspinner) Nathan Lyon did a really good job as well," Flower said.

"He got the ball to drift and he was consistent and reliable.

"It's a balanced attack."

HOW AUSTRALIA'S PACE ATTACK MATCHES UP WITH SOUTH AFRICA

AUSTRALIA:
*Mitchell Johnson

Tests: 56
Wickets: 242 @ 28.33
Strike-rate: 51.5
Five-wicket hauls: 10
10-wicket matches: 2

*Ryan Harris
Tests: 21
Wickets: 93 @ 21.56
Strike-rate: 46
Five-wicket hauls: 5
10-wicket matches: None

*Peter Siddle
Tests: 51
Wickets: 183 @ 28.68
Strike-rate: 58.6
Five-wicket hauls: 8
10-wicket matches: None

SOUTH AFRICA:
*Dale Steyn
Tests: 69
Wickets: 350 @ 22.9
Strike-rate: 42
Five-wicket hauls: 22
10-wicket matches: 5

*Vernon Philander
Tests: 20
Wickets: 105 @ 18
Strike-rate: 39.6
Five-wicket hauls: 9
10-wicket matches: 2

*Morne Morkel
Tests: 53
Wickets: 183 @ 29.91
Strike-rate: 56.5
Five-wicket hauls: 6
10-wicket matches: None.

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