Robin Peterson set for Test return
Left-arm spinner Robin Peterson is set for a return to Test cricket, four years since he last played for South Africa in whites. After legspinner Imran Tahir endured a torrid time in Adelaide, where he conceded the most runs in a Test without taking a wicket, Peterson should be in the staring XI after the captain Graeme Smith confirmed South Africa would "most likely go with a spinner."
On the eve of the match, Peterson was training with his Test cap on, and it looked brand new. He has played six Tests, the last against Bangladesh in 2008, but is best remembered for being hit for 28 runs in an over by Brian Lara in Johannesburg. Many years have passed since then and Peterson is likely to perform the holding role in an attack that will probably consist of four quicks to match Australia's expected quartet.
Though Nathan Lyon remained in the Australia's final 12, the deciding Test could centred around a battle of pace. The WACA curator Cameron Sutherland said the venue's reputation for having lost its bounce is a myth. "Go and look at some of the old photos. There is a photo of Dennis Lillee bowling and Rod Marsh taking the ball, and he'd be 16 metres back. We had a Twenty20 game two years ago where the keeper was on the 30-yard circle and the slip a metre behind him. How much quicker do you want it? I'm realistic that folklore is folklore and so it was always quicker in the old days.
"We've had this discussion with Ed Cowan, who said he has played here the last three years and it's been really quick, it comes on really well. The keepers stand further back, they like to take it on the down. Back in Rod Marsh's era, they liked to take it hands up. It's hard to judge but I've asked a lot of people about it and some of the honest feedback is that it's as quick as it ever was."
Sutherland is not promising a green mamba, though. Two days of wind and wet have hampered preparations slightly. "Whether we get that in it tomorrow, I'm pretty confident. The one thing is that we just haven't had the hot baking sun to set it really hard."
Still, he said a pace barrage would not be misplaced but had a word of advice about the inclusion of a spin option. "Australia have used four quicks before here and it hasn't hurt them," Sutherland said. "Last year, it was more obvious that India wouldn't last the distance so the quicks could have a bite at the cherry.
"How South Africa play on this, seeing as it's familiar conditions to them, might be different. If it goes day four or day five, a spinner might become handy. It's just whether you think the quicks will get more use out of the wicket before the spinner has an impact on the game. There are good quicks on both sides so it depends how the batters bat. Both sides have got batters that love the ball coming on and the horizontal shots. They are two evenly matched sides that love these conditions."
Michael Clarke said before the Test that recent Shield matches had ended well inside four days, with one lasting two-and-half-days, and that he would not like the toss to play too much of a role. Sutherland is certain that it won't, though he suspected bowling first could be profitable.
"I don't think it will make or break the game," Sutherland said. "I'd probably bowl given the conditions. We've had cool conditions and the wicket has got no signs of cracking, it should get better for batting as it goes on … and we don't get the crumbling here."
For Australia, that could mean having two debutants in Josh Hazelwood and John Hastings take the field. For South Africa, it will be a good way to bring Vernon Philander, who has been declared fit, back in.
One bowler who will definitely not make use of conditions is Jacques Kallis. While his fitness will be assessed in the morning, he has been ruled out of bowling. If he cannot play at all, South Africa may replace him with allrounder Ryan McLaren, who will bat lower in the order, or Dean Elgar. They will have to revert to a six-batsman strategy to accommodate all four quicks and Peterson, and Jacques Rudolph is the most likely candidate to be dropped.
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent