Both teams have formidable fast bowling attacks at a venue which usually favours fast bowlers. (Agencies)
South Africa's battery is spearheaded by Vernon Philander and Dale Steyn, who are first and second in the International Cricket Council's Test rankings, while Morne Morkel is 13th.
Australian fast bowlers Ryan Harris, Peter Siddle and Mitchell Johnson are third, fifth and ninth respectively.
Australian captain Michael Clarke claimed after a crushing 5-0 Ashes series win over England that his side had the best bowling attack in the world - an assertion he repeated when he arrived in South Africa.
South African captain Graeme Smith said his world champion team would not be drawn into a war of words.
"We just want to focus on ourselves and get ourselves ready," he said when his team assembled an unusually early nine days before the start of the series.
While South Africa had a three-day practice match against a composite team, Australia's only scheduled warm-up game in Potchefstroom was cancelled because of persistent heavy rain.
But the tourists have had some hard workouts in the nets, with the fast bowlers encouraged to go flat out against the batsmen, as well as a makeshift practice game. Both teams have selection challenges.
It will be the first series for South Africa since the retirement of star all-rounder Jacques Kallis, their leading batsmen of the past decade.
Faf du Plessis is slated to move up to take Kallis' place at number four in the batting order to enable AB de Villiers to continue to keep wicket and bat at five.
All-rounders Ryan McLaren and Wayne Parnell are competing for the vacancy left by Kallis. McLaren is the steadier player but left-armer Parnell bowls with greater pace and could be a better attacking option.
Both teams have formidable fast bowling attacks at a venue which usually favours fast bowlers.