Conquerors of all and sundry last year, which included the coveted number one title in the United Kingdom and its successful defence Down Under, the closing series of South Africa's 2012-13 home season brings a difficult final frontier.

While they are unlikely to bring the same intensity displayed by England and Australia, they're bound to put in a considerably stronger showing than that coughed up by New Zealand.

For South Africa, it's a fitting opportunity to reward a captain who has inspired them for 99 Tests, with Johannesburg set to Graeme Smith's 100th as leader (including one match at the helm of a World XI in 2005).

The occasion doesn't get much bigger, and to trump an opposition they could not two years ago, South Africa will need to fire on all cylinders - boosted by a full bill of fitness for Hashim Amla, Vernon Philander and Robin Peterson.

Conditions in the United Arab Emirates in 2010 were merciless to the bowlers, with pedestrian, tarmac-esque pitches forcing two dull draws. Johannesburg and beyond will bring completely the contrary.

The Proteas are still toying with shelving Peterson for a fourth seamer in Rory Kleinveldt. The green tinge spread across the track two days prior to the start suggested they should, but one surmises Peterson - with the extra bounce - could do as much damage as Kleinveldt.

Pakistan, however, will have no hesitancy in playing their trump card Saeed Ajmal, whose greatest test yet will be a powerful Proteas order on a playing surface very different to the low and slow variables the prolific off-spinner is so accustomed to.

It's in the performance of their pace attack, though, that the visitors will rely heavily on - the staying power of their batsmen too. Junaid Khan, arguably world cricket's finest exponent of left-arm swing and seam recently, will cherish conditions. Resigned to low and slow sub-continental and Gulf pitches for the bulk of his career, Junaid might typify the simile 'like a kid in a candy store' when set lose in South Africa.

The four-day warmup match against an Invitation XI in East London hardly boded well for long periods spent at the crease during the Test series. Six half-centurions lined the fixture at Buffalo Park, but not one Pakistan batsman was able to reach three figures.

Positioned fourth in the ICC rankings, Misbah-ul-Haq's men must consider this their greatest opportunity to upset the bigger guns. Obsessed with their resumption of ties with India, and incensed by Bangladesh - and other cricket's unwillingness to visit - Pakistan can consider a gruelling test against the planet's best team more than consolation.

Key Men
Probably South Africa's best player of spin bowlers, AB de Villiers will be key to the Proteas' ambition to trump Ajmal - and pursue a vital, early series lead.

Conditions, indeed, are ripe for the picking for Junaid Khan Opportunity continues to knock for the left-armer to set himself apart from the nation's other burgeoning seamers.

Last Five Head-To-Head Results
2010: Second Test: Match drawn in Abu Dhabi
2010: First Test: Match drawn in Dubai
2007: Second Test: Match drawn in Lahore
2007: First Test: South Africa won by 160 runs in Karachi
2007: Third Test: South Africa won by five wickets in Cape Town

Prediction
Online betting firm Sky Bet have South Africa at 8/15 and Pakistan at 6/1 in the odds to win the first Test. Visit Sky Bet for the latest cricket betting.

More cricket bets here.

Probable Teams
South Africa: Alviro Petersen, Graeme Smith (captain), Jacques Kallis, Hashim Amla, AB de Villiers (wicketkeeper), Faf du Plessis, Dean Elgar, Robin Peterson, Vernon Philander, Dale Steyn, Morne Morkel.

Pakistan: Mohammad Hafeez, Nasir Jamshed, Azhar Ali, Younis Khan, Misbah-ul-Haq (captain), Asad Shafiq, Sarfraz Ahmed (wicketkeeper), Umar Gul, Saeed Ajmal, Junaid Khan, Mohammad Irfan.

Dates: 1-5 February
Morning session: 10:30-12:30 (08:30-10:30 GMT)
Afternoon session: 13:10-15:10 (11:10-13:10 GMT)
Evening session: 15:30-17:30 (13:30-15:30 GMT)
On-field umpires: Bruce Oxenford and Billy Bowden
Third umpire: Steve Davis
Match referee: Jeff Crowe