Arthur admits: 'It's desperation time'
South Africa have no choice but to go for broke in the final Test against England as they aim to level the series at the Wanderers, and their coach Mickey Arthur has admitted it's a time for gambling and aggression. It makes for a potent mix and promises a fascinating contest on a surface that the home side are determined to make sure will provide a result.
Arthur has had conversations with Chris Scott, the Wanderers groundsman, and the teams are likely to be greeted with a heavily grassed pitch on Thursday morning. It's a move that could well backfire, but South Africa are taking the approach that they may as well lose 2-0 in an attempt to level the contest. It's an unfamiliar, but desperately needed, attitude from a normally conservative team.
"We might gamble a little on the wicket, we'll just see what the weather brings," Arthur said. "It's a gamble you take. The England seamers have bowled very well, but if you are looking for a result it's a gamble you have to take down the line. Even though you look for a grassy wicket it won't be a major green mamba out there. It will allow the batters to get stuck in.
"We have had a meeting, that's no secret, and we'll have a look how it pans out. I always say you can take grass off but you can't put it back on. We'll probably make our final shout on Wednesday in terms of what we need once we know the weather forecast. We've got to go for it, we don't have an option."
However, it will take a huge effort for the South Africans to lift themselves after the gut-wrenching disappointment of pulling up one wicket short of victory at Newlands - the second time that last-man Graham Onions had defied them in the series.
"Hats off to Onions, is he Man of the Series?" Arthur said with a wry smile. "He has thwarted us, and who would have thought England could have done it three times in eight Tests. It probably shows the resilience of this new England side under Andy Flower and Andrew Strauss."
In a surprisingly open assessment, Arthur admitted the dressing room had been shattered by not completing victory at Cape Town and that the contrast with the joyous scenes in the England camp had hit home.
"It almost felt as if England had won and we were deflated," he said. "You carry that edge into the next Test. It was the same in Cardiff [during the Ashes] as they put in a great performance at Lord's. I walked through to thank Andy Flower and happened to end up in the England dressing room as the players arrived.
"The celebrations, rightly so, were as though they'd won. It was bit deflating to come back to our changing room - even though we'd had the better of the Test - and it felt as though we'd lost. I think we've got better and better as the series has gone on. I know the boys are smarting and will want to get a result."
The first challenge, though, is to finalise a team that gives South Africa the best chance of winning the Test. They have a number of issues to confront, from the balance of the attack to the form of key members in the top order. Arthur confirmed that Friedel de Wet will be out of action for the foreseeable future with a serious back injury so Wayne Parnell is likely to make his debut, but he didn't rule out an all-seam attack which would also mean a debut for Ryan McLaren, at the expense of the under-pressure Paul Harris.
However, changes to the top-order are unlikely despite Ashwell Prince's lean series while JP Duminy's offspin has given him an extra role in the team which could be an additional factor in persuading South Africa to leave out Harris. "I don't like going in without a spinner and I think Harry has done a tremendous job," Arthur said. "A spinner in Test cricket is vital, but if conditions offer it perhaps we could look at it."
There is still a sense of disbelief among the home team that they enter this final Test trailing in the series and if South Africa don't rescue a share of the spoils it will leave a number of people nervous about their positions, not least Arthur himself.
"There's always pressure," Arthur said. "In any Test there is pressure and I'd lying if I said we didn't feel it. We have to be able to handle that, it's nothing new to us, we've been here before. We've played very good cricket and I think good enough for the series to be 1-1. I won't say 2-1 because England have been very good too at times. Other than a day-and-a-half in Durban we have played very good cricket so hopefully we can pull out the stops here."
Andrew McGlashan is assistant editor of Cricinfo