Cape Town: Graeme Smith's South Africa will seek to cross what has become the final frontier for the country's Test squad when they take on Australia in the series-deciding third and final Test at Newlands from Saturday. Since returning to international cricket in 1991, South Africa have beaten every other Test nation except Australia in home and away series.
Smith has twice led South Africa to triumphs in Australia but a home series win has eluded Smith and his predecessors. In six previous tours by Australia going back to 1993/94 the visitors have been victors four times with two series shared.
It seemed the sequence would continue when a Mitchell Johnson-inspired Australia won the first Test of the current series by 281 runs at Centurion - but world champions South Africa bounced back in emphatic style with a 231-run win in Port Elizabeth last weekend. It has set up a showdown which has ignited local interest, with capacity crowds expected on the first two days.
Now the hosts have an opportunity to clinch the series at a ground which has been a fortress for South Africa, who have won 18 of 26 post-isolation Tests at Newlands, with only three defeats - all against Australia.
But South Africa have been unbeaten at Newlands since 2005/06 and have twice beaten Australia in a sequence of eight wins and two draws since then. South Africa are expected to make two significant changes to their team.
Opening batsman Alviro Petersen, who withdrew from the second Test because of illness, is set to return despite his replacement Dean Elgar playing a crucial innings of 83 in Port Elizabeth. Elgar is likely to drop down the order to number six or seven. It means the South African innings will be launched by two men who are short of runs. Petersen was out for two and one at Centurion while Smith has scored only 37 runs in four innings. (Also read: Warner fined for ball-tampering comments)
With left-arm fast-medium bowler Wayne Parnell ruled out with a groin injury, South Africa have to decide whether to pick all-rounder Ryan McLaren, who suffered concussion when struck by a bouncer from Johnson in Centurion, or a specialist bowler.
One player who seems certain to miss out is Robin Peterson, the only specialist spinner in the squad, after coach Russell Domingo said he was happy with the role played by part-time spinners JP Duminy and Elgar. That leaves seamers Rory Kleinveldt and Kyle Abbott vying with fellow right-armer McLaren for the final place in the eleven.
Australian coach Darren Lehmann gave his squad three days off after the second Test loss, although captain Michael Clarke was seen working in the nets in an effort to regain his batting form.
Subject to fitness, all-rounder Shane Watson is set for a recall in place of either Alex Doolan or Shaun Marsh after missing the first two Tests because of a calf injury. When the two teams last met at Newlands in November 2011, South Africa were bowled out for 96 and Australia for 47 on a freakish second day during which 23 wickets fell.
Groundsman Evan Flint said a recurrence of 2011 was unlikely. He said an unusually high water table shortly after the end of a wet Cape winter had made the pitch more bowler-friendly than usual.
With the match coming towards the end of summer in the Cape dry season, Flint said he expected a pitch which would offer some help to the bowlers in the mornings but would generally be good for batting.
South Africa (likely): Graeme Smith (captain), Alviro Petersen, Hashim Amla, Faf du Plessis, AB de Villiers (wkt), JP Duminy, Dean Elgar, Ryan McLaren or Rory Kleinveldt or Kyle Abbott, Vernon Philander, Dale Steyn, Morne Morkel.
Australia (likely): Michael Clarke (captain), Chris Rogers, David Warner, Shane Watson, Alex Doolan or Shaun Marsh, Steve Smith, Brad Haddin, Mitchell Johnson, Ryan Harris, Peter Siddle, Nathan Lyon.
Umpires: Aleem Dar (PAK), Kumar Dharmasena (SRI)
TV umpire: Richard Illingworth (ENG)
Match referee: Roshan Mahanama (SRI)