South Africa v Australia, 3rd Test, Cape Town March 18, 2009

Australia have more to gain in dead rubber

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Match facts

March 19-23, 2009
Start time 10.30am (08.30GMT)

Big Picture

The series is decided and the Cape Town Test has become a dead rubber but for several individuals there is still plenty to play for. The Australians in particular will be keen to keep up their strong form ahead of their next Test appointment. The Ashes begin in July and with the likelihood that established players such as Stuart Clark, Brett Lee and Andrew Symonds will be available for selection, the newer faces in the squad will be desperate to push their cases for spots on the tour. Men like Ben Hilfenhaus and Marcus North have all but booked their places for the England trip and a strong performance in Cape Town would cap off their auditions.

As far as team momentum is concerned, this game has far less importance than the equivalent dead rubber in Sydney in January. Australia fought back from their 2-0 series deficit to win that game and the impetus helped them begin strongly in South Africa, while their opponents faded away. But this time the South Africans have no Test cricket on the agenda for nine months - their home series against England begins in December.

It's therefore hard to know what the likes of Ashwell Prince and Imraan Khan can take out of this game in isolation. The two men have been included as the openers for this game in the absence of the injured Graeme Smith and the axed Neil McKenzie. Prince and Khan could be competing for one opening position when Smith returns but with so long before the England series, they have no choice but to treat this as a one-off match.

Form guide (last five Tests, most recent first)

South Africa LLLWW
Australia WWWLL

Watch out for

Ashwell Prince has been asked to open and it's not a job that he is used to. A trial run for the Warriors on the weekend worked well - he made a handy 254 against an attack boasting both Morkel brothers. Prince will also be keen to prove a point to the selectors, who left him out at the start of this series despite his standing as the team's vice-captain, after he missed all three Tests in Australia due to a cracked thumb.

Mitchell Johnson is the leading wicket taker for the series and most significantly his repertoire now boasts the inswinger to right-handers. It has made him a serious threat in the swinging South African conditions and if the Newlands pitch has a hint of green on the first morning he could be a handful. South Africa's new openers will be warily eyeing off Smith's hands after Johnson broke one in Sydney and the other in Durban.

Team news

There has been nothing but team news for South Africa over the past week. After the Durban loss, McKenzie and Morne Morkel were dropped and with Smith injured, it meant three changes to a side that hadn't altered at all since the start of the tour of Australia. Prince and Khan will form a new and experimental opening partnership, while Albie Morkel is set to make his debut at the expense of his brother.

South Africa (likely) 1 Imraan Khan, 2 Ashwell Prince, 3 Hashim Amla, 4 Jacques Kallis (capt), 5 AB de Villiers, 6 JP Duminy, 7 Mark Boucher (wk), 8 Albie Morkel, 9 Paul Harris, 10 Dale Steyn, 11 Makhaya Ntini.

Australia's only decision was likely to be whether to use the same XI that won the first two Tests or include the legspinner Bryce McGain. However, their situation has been complicated by a bout of gastro that struck down North the day before the game. He did not train with the squad on Wednesday and it meant the Australians were forced to delay naming their 12. With no batting backups in the touring party, if North fails to recover it will almost certainly mean a debut for McGain. The Newlands pitch is expected to offer some turn, so McGain is a chance to play anyway, and at just a week short of his 37th birthday he would be Australia's oldest debutant since Bob Holland. If he does play it could be as a replacement for his Victoria team-mate Andrew McDonald, who has been solid in the first two Tests without categorically imposing himself on them.

Australia (possible) 1 Phillip Hughes, 2 Simon Katich, 3 Ricky Ponting (capt), 4 Michael Hussey, 5 Michael Clarke, 6 Marcus North, 7 Brad Haddin (wk), 8 Mitchell Johnson, 9 Peter Siddle, 10 Bryce McGain, 11 Ben Hilfenhaus.

Pitch and conditions

Less than 24 hours before the game, the Newlands pitch was sporting significant patches of grass, although there were sizeable bare spots at either end. It will be given a shave before the match and should become the best batting surface of the series. The forecast for the first few days is for perfectly sunny conditions and temperatures of around 25C.

Stats and Trivia

  • Australia's Test record at Newlands rivals their record anywhere in the world. They have won nine of their ten Tests at the venue, losing for the only time in 1969-70
  • Australia are the only team to have beaten South Africa in Newlands Tests in the post-Apartheid era
  • Ricky Ponting needs 52 runs to reach 11,000 in Tests, a mark that only Sachin Tendulkar, Brian Lara and Allan Border have achieved
  • This will be the last Test appearance for the umpire Steve Bucknor, who will quit the game having stood in a record 128 Tests

Quotes

"There's a lot of upsides in Bryce playing in this game but with this group of players we've got together and the work that they've done over the past few weeks it is going to be difficult to break the side up."
Ricky Ponting

"We've got to take note of what they did in the third Test match in Sydney. They turned it around and we've got to do the same here."
Jacques Kallis, South Africa's acting captain

Brydon Coverdale is a staff writer at Cricinfo