Ready for action: Steven Smith, left, and Faf du Plessis with the trophy SA and Australia will be playing for in the four-Test series. Picture: GERHARD DURAAN/GALLO IMAGES
Ready for action: Steven Smith, left, and Faf du Plessis with the trophy SA and Australia will be playing for in the four-Test series. Picture: GERHARD DURAAN/GALLO IMAGES

The last time SA played a Test against Australia at Kingsmead in 2009, current captain Faf du Plessis was starting to make his run-making weight felt at franchise level.

His two Titans team-mates, AB de Villiers and Morné Morkel, were already established Test regulars. The former has a huge point to prove, having not scored a Test century in 13 matches since January 2015, while the latter is winding down an international career that started at Kingsmead against India back in 2006.

Either way, Du Plessis will need the pair to fire on all cylinders for the first Test against Australia that starts at Kingsmead on Thursday.

There were broken fingers and chipped chins courtesy of Mitchell Johnson some nine years ago, and the Australian team — as competitive as ever — still pack a fearsome, young and skilful attack.

De Villiers made a valiant but fruitless second-innings 84 while Morkel found himself dropped for the next Test after a caning at the hands of the late Phil Hughes.

Australia then went on to wrap up a fourth consecutive series win in SA, thanks to a 175-run win.

However, De Villiers has not quite delivered in the manner that he wants to, and Du Plessis felt his good friend may finally come good.

De Villiers made two match-turning contributions in the first and second Tests of the India series without getting to triple figures. There is also the imposing figure of Morkel, who will want to start his final Test series with a bang.

"What I can say about AB is that he’s extremely motivated for this series. He understands that he’s one of the best players in the world and if he has a quiet series, it makes him want to do more," the skipper said.

"He doesn’t want people talking about him not performing. The motivation for that will be a very big performance.

"Morne’s been an absolute legend of a servant for South African cricket. He’s been a great team man for the last 12 years and he’s served the team well. He will be missed but, as he said, we understand his reasons and he’s got his family to look after.

"He’ll be a difficult guy to replace, but the good thing is we’ve got Lungi Ngidi coming through to take his place."

Australia are highly unlikely to make changes to the starting 11 that thrashed England in the fifth Ashes Test in Sydney early in January.

They caned the Old Enemy 4-0, regaining the Ashes unceremoniously while captain Steve Smith scored 687 runs in the five matches.

The Proteas are mulling the option of six batsmen and five bowlers or seven batsmen and four bowlers because of Australia’s bowling strength.

Theunis de Bruyn is the shoe-in as the seventh batsman should the Proteas choose to take the latter route.

De Bruyn imposed himself on the Australian bowling in the first innings of last week’s three-day game without going big.

However, he is the specialist reserve batsman while Temba Bavuma continues to recover from a finger injury.

Smith also knows Morkel may have a point to prove with nothing to lose, but he also feels his team has prepared sufficiently for their old rival.

Australia also have a proud record to defend in SA, having not lost a series here since the 1969-70 four-Test series won by Ali Bacher’s then Bok team.

"I have no doubt that he’s been a terrific performer for the Proteas for a long time. They’ll want to do everything they can to send him out on a winning note. It’s up to us to try and stop that. He’s a terrific bowler and he’s had a fabulous career. After this series, I wish him all the best," Smith said of Morkel.

"We know what we’re up against and its going to be about executing our skills. If we do that well, hopefully we’ll have the success we want to have in this series," he said.