Will give SA hard time: Ponting

Sydney: Ricky Ponting admits the South Africans deserve their ranking as the No. 1 side in the world, but predicts Australia will give them a hard time in the three-Test series starting next month.

The former captain has had a long winter's preparation ahead of the summer, having been dropped from the one-day side.

He scored a hard-hitting 85no for Tasmania in the first innings of the Shield game against South Australia and is keen to face the Proteas after his long break.

"They're the No 1 team in the world and they're there for a reason ... they are an exceptionally well-balanced side," Ponting said.

"With (Hashim) Amla playing the best he's ever played, (Jacques) Kallis still doing what he does best, Graeme Smith opening with an average of 50, and (Vernon) Philander and (Dale) Steyn on the bowling front, they are a very good team.

"They've probably got the best fast-bowling attack going around at the moment. With (AB) De Villiers now being the wicketkeeper, they bat really low also, and have got a specialist batsman coming in at seven.

"In saying that, we've had some great contests against them since I've ever played for Australia and they've never really dominated us.

"I think we know if we can do everything as well as we can in Australia this year, they'll find it hard to beat us."

Ponting has not played for Australia since the series against the West Indies in April.

"It just makes you keen to play again, you just can't wait to get back out there. You're not in the gym at six every morning in the middle of winter without a big, clear picture in mind and that for me was to be in the best mental and physical shape for the start of the season.

"I've trained really hard to be in good physical shape. I'm a few kilos down and feel like I'm moving really well.

"I've got myself in a good state now, feeling good about everything and right where I want to be."

Ponting struggled through last year, but put his critics back in their place during the 4-0 drubbing of India.

The former captain was Australia's most consistent batsman, scoring more than 500 runs in the series, including a pair of centuries and three 50s.

"I made the most of the break for the first couple of months to give my mind and body a bit of a rest because I bashed myself up pretty much all throughout the summer last year.

"After the West Indies, I had a couple of months off with nothing and then about 12 weeks where I trained myself into the ground really ... physically."

Ponting, who has played 165 Test matches, said he took a break from batting in the winter.

"I did a little bit of exercise but didn't touch a bat for a couple of months. I needed to freshen up, get my mind right and, more importantly, get fit ' but (also) just get my mind right around what I've got for the remainder of my career."