Survival of the fittest in the west
November 30-December 4, WACA ground
Start time 10:30 (02:30 GMT)
Spent. Exhausted. Drained. Cooked. Though most commonly applied to Peter Siddle, these words were also accurate enough descriptions of players on both sides at the end of an epic draw in Adelaide. A mere three days later Australia and South Africa are at it again, on a ground and a pitch likely to offer up a result after two stalemates in the first two Tests. Australia's captain Michael Clarke has already labelled the match a 'grand final', while Dale Steyn spoke for the tourists when he conveyed their desire not to slink away from Australia with the No. 1 ranking still in their possession via the back-door of three draws.
Australia's challenge appears the most pronounced. Having thrown all they possibly could at South Africa across the first two Tests they have nothing to show for it but injuries and a creeping fatigue across most of the squad. This means the bowling attack that has strived so hard in Brisbane and Adelaide will have a decidedly different look at the WACA ground. Mitchell Johnson and Mitchell Starc can both be expected to play, while Siddle and Ben Hilfenhaus have been rested. Shane Watson's return from a calf problem is welcome, but it remains to be seen how well grooved he is for a Test match having played only one first-class fixture - in which he was injured - since April. Then of course there is the matter of Ricky Ponting's last Test. Clarke has the job ahead of him to keep his team focused and efficient despite their trials.
South Africa, meanwhile, can style themselves as the boxer who has sat on the ropes and allowed their opponent to punch himself out before launching a definitive counter in the final round. While they lack the depth of bowling reinforcements Australia may call on, the return of Vernon Philander from a back niggle and the extra day and a half of rest afforded by Faf du Plessis' magnificent rearguard in Adelaide suggest this will be a fresh enough attack to zing the ball around in Perth. Jacques Kallis remains an outside chance of playing as a batsman, having done so well under considerable duress in the second Test. A more accomplished and seasoned side entering this series, the tourists will hope to show their somewhat flat displays up to this point are not a true reflection of their worth. It's a special Test for South Africa, their 200th since unity.
Form guide(Most recent first)
South Africa DDWDW
In the spotlight
One of the more pointed reactions to Ricky Ponting's poor Adelaide Test match was the posting of a Youtube video overlaying his first-innings dismissal to Jacques Kallis across a Ponting endorsement for Swiss vitamins. No-one was more troubled by the sight of Ponting being bowled twice in the match than the man himself, and on the eve of the deciding Test he announced that he was retiring from international cricket. Ponting will bow out at the WACA ground, the venue of his Test debut in 1995, and he has the opportunity to take Australia where they have been for most of his 17-year career: to the No. 1 ranking in Tests.
Operating at something slightly less than top gear for most of the first two Tests, Dale Steyn has so far endured one of the leanest series of his compelling career. Perth will provide an answer to whether Australia have blunted him effectively or whether Steyn has been saving his silver bullets for the series decider. The left-handers Ed Cowan, David Warner and Michael Hussey have helped curb Steyn's effectiveness, and the return of Watson to the top three may actually encourage the fast man's outswinger. In Steyn's own opinion his greatest asset is durability, and he has the chance to prove it by bowling with greater vim in Perth than anyone else to have slogged through the whole of the series.
Shane Watson is guaranteed to return and Mitchell Johnson is also expected to be included for his first Test in a year. Both Siddle and Hilfenhaus have been left out of the final 12 because of their huge workloads in Adelaide.
Australia (possible) 1 Ed Cowan, 2 David Warner, 3 Shane Watson, 4 Ricky Ponting, 5 Michael Clarke (capt), 6 Michael Hussey, 7 Matthew Wade (wk), 8 Mitchell Johnson, 9 Nathan Lyon, 10 Mitchell Starc, 11 Josh Hazlewood.
Faf du Plessis may earn a promotion in the batting order after his Adelaide heroics, while Ryan McLaren's all-round skills may be utilised if Jacques Kallis is not fit. Kallis, however, trained on the eve of the match and a final assessment will be made on Friday morning. Vernon Philander will return after a back complaint kept him out of Adelaide, and left-arm spinner Robin Peterson is likely to take Imran Tahir's spot.
South Africa (possible) 1 Graeme Smith (capt), 2 Alviro Petersen, 3 Hashim Amla, 4 Jacques Kallis, 5 AB de Villiers (wk), 6 Faf du Plessis, 7 Robin Peterson, 8 Vernon Philander, 9 Dale Steyn, 10 Rory Kleinveldt, 11 Morne Morkel.
Pitch and conditions
This year's WACA pitch is expected to offer plenty of pace and bounce for the fast bowlers, but a little less seam movement than was available for last summer's three-day affair between Australia and India. The weather forecast is for cool temperatures and the odd shower.
Stats and trivia
- A victory for Australia would hand them the ICC's No. 1 ranking in Tests, a position they last held in 2009. South Africa will retain top spot with a draw
- AB de Villiers is seven runs short of surpassing his coach Gary Kirsten's tally against Australia, his 1134 runs in 10th place on the list of run-scorers in Tests between the two countries
- Ricky Ponting's Test match average at the WACA - 41.43 - is his lowest among all of Australia's major grounds
"We played our heart out during the first two Tests. Now we have an opportunity to claim a series against the No. 1 team in the world with a winner-takes-all encounter. We've got nothing to lose. We win this Test and we become the No. 1-ranked team in the world."
"We want to win the series. We didn't come down to Australia to draw. We've played below what we are capable of but Australia have thrown everything they can at us and they still haven't beaten us. If we can play to what our potential is, I think we will go home 1-nil."
Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here