Watson, Petersen likely for tantalising decider
Match factsMarch 1-5, Cape Town
Start time 1030 local (0830GMT)
For all the close battles that Australia and South Africa have had over the past few years, only once since the mid-1990s have they entered the last Test of a series with the score even. That was in the last series in Australia in 2012-13, when the hosts felt they had the better of the first two draws only for South Africa to romp over the top of them in the decider in Perth. For the second successive series between these teams, it comes down to the third and final Test.
There could hardly be a more tantalising location for the decider. Not only does Newlands boast arguably the finest backdrop in world cricket, it was the scene of the most remarkable of all the recent Tests between these two sides. At this ground in November 2011, Shane Watson and Ryan Harris skittled South Africa for 96, which seemed a pretty darn good effort. Until Australia collapsed for 47. They were lucky even to get there, having been 21 for 9. For just the third time in Test history, part of all four innings of a Test occurred on one day. Not that the pitch was a minefield - Michael Clarke, Graeme Smith and Hashim Amla all scored hundreds in the same Test.
A dry surface is expected this time around and as in the first two Tests the team batting last may have a difficult task on their hands. South Africa's batsmen handled Mitchell Johnson with greater ease on the slower Port Elizabeth pitch than in Centurion and South Africa's ability to find reverse swing was also critical. If the hosts can carry their momentum into the Cape Town Test they could secure their first series win at home against Australia since their readmission.
Form guide(last five completed games most recent first)
South Africa WLWDW
In the spotlight
There are few sights more worrying to an Australian cricketer than an in-form Hashim Amla. At his best, as he was in the Perth win in 2012-13, he can manoeuvre almost any ball to any part of the field. And since the start of the 2011-12 series in South Africa, Amla has scored five Test centuries against Australia while averaging 61.15. A return to form for an unbeaten 127 in Port Elizabeth was the last thing Australia needed, and a significant boost to South Africa's hopes of winning the series.
Michael Clarke has played 11 innings since his last Test half-century. That is the longest such drought of his Test career and is all the more surprising given his dominance as a batsman since he took over the captaincy. Clarke has at times been too keen to get bat on ball during this series and he will hope that a good, long chat with Shane Warne has helped him reach the mental space required for this decider. At least he can think back to his century when Australia last played a Test here, even if it was overshadowed by their 47 all out in the second innings.
Alviro Petersen is expected to return after missing the Port Elizabeth Test due to a virus, which would mean Dean Elgar would likely shift down the order and Quinton de Kock would make way. A change to the attack is also required due to Wayne Parnell's groin strain and Rory Kleinveldt might be favoured over Kyle Abbott and Ryan McLaren. There is a good chance the spin duties will again be shared by the part-timers Elgar and JP Duminy.
South Africa (possible) 1 Graeme Smith (capt), 2 Alviro Petersen, 3 Hashim Amla, 4 Faf du Plessis, 5 AB de Villiers (wk), 6 Dean Elgar, 7 JP Duminy, 8 Vernon Philander, 9 Dale Steyn, 10 Rory Kleinveldt, 11 Morne Morkel.
After missing the first two Tests with a calf injury, Shane Watson is expected to return to Australia's line-up for the series decider, adding a valuable extra bowling option and slotting in at No. 6. Shaun Marsh will miss out with Alex Doolan staying in team - Inverarity confirmed as much at training on Friday*. There is a question mark over the attack after the fast men endured a heavy workload in Port Elizabeth. Ryan Harris in particular has struggled for impact and James Pattinson may be considered to add some freshness to the bowling group.
Australia (possible) 1 Chris Rogers, 2 David Warner, 3 Alex Doolan, 4 Michael Clarke (capt), 5 Steven Smith, 6 Shane Watson, 7 Brad Haddin (wk), 8 Mitchell Johnson, 9 Ryan Harris/James Pattinson, 10 Peter Siddle, 11 Nathan Lyon.
Pitch and conditions
A dry pitch is expected in Cape Town, where the weather has been very hot and windy in the lead-up to the Test. Groundsman Evan Flint has the challenge of ensuring there is enough moisture in the surface to prevent it from breaking up too early, but whatever the case, batting last will not be easy. There are some showers expected during the match, with the third day shaping as the most likely to be affected.
Stats and trivia'
- If South Africa win in Cape Town it will be their first series win at home against Australia since 1970 - they have lost four and drawn two since their readmission
- Australia will finish the series second on the ICC's Test rankings if they win or draw in Cape Town, but third if they lose - South Africa cannot be budged from first
- Australia have lost their past two Cape Town Tests but prior to that had an excellent record there, having won nine of the previous ten Tests they had played there
Quotes"This would be an amazing achievement by this team to win this Test match, and as an individual player who has played a lot of cricket around the world if this doesn't excite you, you are in the wrong sport."
*1530GMT February 28: The preview was updated with the news of Shaun Marsh's exclusion
Brydon Coverdale is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here