Series victory up for grabs for England
January 3-7, 2009
Start time 10.30 am (0830 GMT)
Newlands, and the dramatic backdrop of Table Mountain, is the setting for a Test match with plenty at stake. South Africa must defeat England to draw level, while the visitors are one win away from a memorable series victory.
If that seemed unlikely before the series begun it was almost unthinkable following England's late-afternoon collapse on the final day of the first Test. Yet such was England's dominance in the second Test at Durban that South Africa are now forced into playing 'catch-up' cricket, demanding a style of positive play that contradicts the naturally risk-free approach they prefer.
Newlands is, however, something of a fortress for them. In 20 matches since readmission they have lost just three, each to Australia. Three more have been drawn but the rest won. Five years ago a potent England side, again one up in the series, came to Cape Town confident and were duly demolished by 196 runs. Graeme Smith's men have the resources to repeat the feat and could be buoyed the clarity of the task ahead. In the aftermath of the Durban rout Smith said he felt his team were not 'decisive enough', they now have no choice.
England, though, need only look as far back as last summer, to fully appreciate the challenge ahead. Then they had the chance to seal the Ashes at Headingley having gone one up in the second Test at Lord's. On cue, they fluffed their lines entirely, and were hammered by an innings and 80 runs. It's a lesson the team are desperate to heed.
Their only concern is the fitness of Paul Collingwood, but given the importance of both the match and of the man himself, it's likely he will overcome his dislocated finger in time. If he did pull up short, Michael Carberry could slot in at number five.
Form guide (last 5 Tests, most recent first)
South Africa LDWLL
Watch out for
It was on this ground almost seven years ago that James Anderson launched his career with four top-order Pakistan wickets at the 2003 World Cup. Then he was zipping the ball around at pace from a natural, whippy action. Now as the self-proclaimed leader of England's attack, he had a quiet outing in Durban and hasn't really excelled in Test cricket since his 5 for 80 at Edgbaston last summer. Given happy memories and the strong back-up from Graham Onions, Stuart Broad and Graeme Swann this may be his time again.
There has been plenty of agonising about the potency of South Africa's attack. With Makhaya Ntini on his last legs and Dale Steyn continuing to struggle against England, Morne Morkel, has been Smith's main threat. Twice he has worked over the England captain this series, having troubled him in the one-dayers and dismissed him three times in seven innings when the sides met in England in 2008. With natural pace and steep bounce he has all the tools to trouble the best players. Whereas in the past those skills have not always come together, he has looked well synced all series and could prove key for South Africa this game.
It was a batting collapse that lost South Africa the last Test, but it's the bowlers who are feeling the pressure. Ntini has enjoyed a remarkable career but after eleven years and 101 games at the highest level, his bite and threat have disappeared. Friedel de Wet did plenty in his debut at Centurion to suggest he can slot in here, but they will still need to deliver the goods for Smith.
South Africa: (probable) 1 Graeme Smith (capt), 2 Ashwell Prince, 3 Hashim Amla, 4 Jacques Kallis, 5 AB de Villiers, 6 JP Duminy, 7 Mark Boucher (wk), 8 Paul Harris, 9 Morne Morkel, 10 Dale Steyn, 11 Friedel de Wet.
With Ian Bell and Alastair Cook finding form just in time at Kingsmead, England have settled their selection issues for the moment. Collingwood should play, but if not Carberry would be a straight swap leaving the four-man attack to pick up where it left off last week. While the extra-bowler is always an option, a series lead and memories of Headingley, where a batsman-light England were trounced, should mean England stick with the balance they have.
England: (probable) 1 Andrew Strauss (capt), 2 Alastair Cook, 3 Jonathan Trott, 4 Kevin Pietersen, 5 Paul Collingwood, 6 Ian Bell, 7 Matt Prior (wk), 8 Stuart Broad, 9 Graeme Swann, 10 James Anderson, 11 Graham Onions.
Pitch and conditions
After the strength-sapping humidity of Durban, Cape Town will prove a far more hospitable venue for both teams and the large new-year crowd that is expected to attend. With three draws in the last 20 outings, the pitch should favour a result. The last Test played here saw Steyn run through Australia's middle order before three centuries helped take South Africa to a mammoth first-innings 651. Bar two balmy spells in each Test the bat has dominated this series and should do again here.
Stats and Trivia
- Cape Town is very much South Africa's favourite hunting ground, with 14 wins from 20 Tests since readmission in 1992. England have nothing to take from their experiences, with heavy defeats from each of their past three games there.
- Jacques Kallis has a good record almost anywhere he plays, but he is particularly fond of Cape Town, amassing 1448 runs from 25 innings there, including a first-innings 149 to set up victory the last time the sides met at Newlands.
- For a full statistical preview, click here.
"As a team we have prepared well and it's about following those processes over the next five days. There will be times when the game is on the line, but let's hope we can manage those breaking points better than England."
Graeme Smith had been bullish with his words earlier in the series, but following the Durban defeat is doing all he can do avoid the 'choker' tag being pinned on his side again.
"There have been a lot of people patting and telling us how great we were. It's important we don't read too much into that. It's very much a case of being desperate to win again and I like the feeling in the dressing room at the moment."
Andrew Strauss is keeping his players' feet firmly grounded.
Sahil Dutta is assistant editor of Cricinfo