South Africa hope fast bowlers will fire
When this series began, there were questions hanging over South Africa's bowling attack. Had they missed a trick by not sending an additional paceman with the touring party? Did they lack a bowler who could hold one end up? Few, however, were concerned about their ability to take 20 wickets.
It's what the South African attack has become known for. In seven of their previous ten Tests before this tour, they bowled teams out twice. They won six of those games with the same attack. Their five-men stronghold comprised Dale Steyn, Morne Morkel, Vernon Philander, Imran Tahir and Jacques Kallis and the variation they offered was thought of as unmatched. Allan Donald called it the strongest attack South Africa had ever fielded.
South Africa have not used that combination once on this tour of Australia. Injuries and conditions necessitated changes and the swapping seems to have taken its toll. "That was always going to be a challenge along the way," Graeme Smith said. "All of us were hoping that it wouldn't come on one of the toughest Tests away from home." His biggest concern ahead of the Perth Test is "having the bowlers, the armoury to win a Test."
One way of ensuring the arsenal is sufficient is to throw it all in, and that's what South Africa are certain to do at the WACA ground. On a pitch that will be seamer-friendly upfront, all four frontline quicks are likely to play, as well as a holding bowler in Robin Peterson, in case the conditions turn out like they did in Brisbane. There too, South Africa bought into the hype about a paceman's paradise but found themselves in a barren land, with no one to stem the flow of runs.
For a while, not having a designated donkey bowler worked for South Africa. Instead of someone in the Paul Harris mould tying up an end, under Gary Kirsten the attack reformed to become one where every bowler was a wicket-taker. When that works, it works well, but when it doesn't, Brisbane and Adelaide happen.
Australia's scoring-rate in both Tests was high as South Africa searched for wickets but gave away runs instead. "We haven't been able to string together good performances for long enough. Australia have attacked us at the right times," Smith said. "We've had Australia under pressure and they have countered really well. In every over we've bowled a bad ball and when you do that, it doesn't really allow you to control the game."
Now South Africa need that discipline again, and will look to Peterson to provide it. It does not mean the road for Imran Tahir has closed. He will be looked after by team management so that he can "come back to performing at his best," according to Smith, but he will have to rebuild his confidence before anything else.
However, it isn't just Tahir who needs to improve. A no-ball problem affected all but Dale Steyn and a lack of imagination seems to have gripped the bowlers. It is as though they had grown accustomed to batsmen not resisting, and when the likes of Michael Clarke and Michael Hussey did, they aren't quite sure what to do to remove them.
What Smith is hoping for is that South Africa will come up with new plans for Perth but that Australia have already given their all and don't have too many more ideas. "We're quite confident that Australia have played really well and we haven't been at our best but we are still here," he said.
But Australia do have something else, even if it has been forced on them by circumstance. They will field a completely new attack after both Peter Siddle and Ben Hilfenhaus were left out of the 12 because they were fatigued after Adelaide and didn't recover quickly enough. It presents a depth South Africa don't have and a newness to the line-up that Smith is wary of. "How these guys react to their roles so quickly with so many changes, that might be the interesting thing for them," he said. "How they can string that together as a unit will be interesting to see."
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent