Strap yourselves in, Australia pace ace Josh Hazlewood says the blockbuster Qantas Tour of South Africa could surpass the intensity of the Magellan Ashes.
The bold claim from Hazlewood comes on the eve of the four-Test series against the Proteas having been a key contributor in the 4-0 demolition of England at home this summer.
But while the Ashes is perhaps the pinnacle of Test cricket for any Australian due to the historic rivalry that stretches back more than 140 years, Hazlewood expects a “tougher” contest in South Africa against the world No.2 Proteas on their home turf.
“I think it’s going to match it if not even surpass it,” Hazlewood told cricket.com.au when asked if he expects the intensity in South Africa to reach the same level as the Ashes.
“The Ashes is obviously a different prospect, and at home the crowds were massive, the media hype was big and it was a great series to be a part of.
“But I think this series is going to be a lot tougher cricket.
“It’s overseas for us and we’ve obviously struggled overseas in the last couple of years, so it’s a good opportunity in sort of familiar conditions, a bit like Australia, to put our best foot forward and come home with the trophy.”
While Australia have struggled to win abroad in England and Asia for the past decade, their record in South Africa since the Proteas returned to international cricket more than 25 years ago is imperious.
In seven series on South African soil, Australia have not lost a Test series, winning five and drawing twice.
It’s a sterling record Test spearhead Mitchell Starc wants to maintain.
“It’s going to be big,” Starc told cricket.com.au.
“South Africa beat us at home and now we’ve got to do one on them and beat them away from home.
“There’s a lot been made about cricketing teams around the world and their records away from home.
“So, it’s important for us with the record that we do have over here to keep that intact.
“We want to win all the games we play, but now the big focus is winning games away from home.
“It’s two awesome bowling attacks, plenty of guys from both teams who can score big runs and attacking players.”
Of Australia’s fearsome bowling unit, only Pat Cummins has played a Test in South Africa, as an 18-year-old on debut in November 2011.
Cummins starred in that match, taking 6-79 and hitting the winning runs to secure a thrilling two-wicket victory in Johannesburg.
Now 24 with 10 Tests and 44 wickets under his belt – 23 of which came in the Ashes – Cummins expects an “incredibly intense” series by two teams who fight fire with fire.
“I think there’s always a couple of series a year where the whole cricketing world turns to and it feels like this series is going to be one,” Cummins told cricket.com.au.
“I feel like we play a similar brand of cricket, both try and be quite aggressive and brave and take the game on.
“And both teams have some fast bowlers that want to bowl fast and intimidate the batsmen.
“I think it’s going to be a great series.
“Four-match Test series, it’s good, I think they last few series have either been two or three so this time around it’s like another Ashes.
“It’s going to be hard work but really exciting.”
If any extra motivation was needed, Australia will be out for revenge after losing to the Proteas on home soil in 2016, a 2-1 series defeat that caused a seismic overhaul to the Test XI after an innings defeat in Hobart.
Eight members of the new-look side that beat South Africa in the third Test at Adelaide Oval are on this tour, with skipper Steve Smith wanting to return serve to the Proteas.
“Playing against South Africa is always a great series,” Smith told cricket.com.au.
“I think they’re a really great cricket side.
“Having been beaten by them at home it’s a great opportunity for this team to turn the tides and win here away from home.”
Qantas Tour of South Africa
Australia squad: Steve Smith (c), David Warner (vc), Cameron Bancroft, Pat Cummins, Peter Handscomb, Josh Hazlewood, Jon Holland, Usman Khawaja, Nathan Lyon, Mitchell Marsh, Shaun Marsh, Tim Paine, Jhye Richardson, Chadd Sayers, Mitchell Starc.
South Africa squad: Faf du Plessis (c), Hashim Amla, Temba Bavuma, Quinton de Kock, Theunis de Bruyn, AB de Villiers, Dean Elgar, Heinrich Klaasen, Keshav Maharaj, Aiden Markram, Morne Morkel, Wiaan Mulder, Lungi Ngidi, Vernon Philander, Kagiso Rabada.
Warm-up match v South Africa A | Australia won by five wickets
First Test Kingsmead, Durban, March 1-5
Second Test St George's Park, Port Elizabeth, March 9-13
Third Test Newlands, Cape Town, March 22-26
Fourth Test Wanderers, Johannesburg, March 30-April 3