So it has all come down to this: the series is level at 1-1 and it is all to play for Australia and South Africa at Newlands. Both test matches to date have had as their cornerstones some exceptional individual performances: Marsh and Johnson for Australia in the first test and de Villiers, Duminy and Steyn for South Africa in the second test. This test match, one suspects, will rest more on team performance as a whole than the brilliance of a handful of individuals.
Here are my 5 keys to victory for the third test at Newlands:
1. Battle of the Leaders: Clarke v Smith
With the willow neither captain has set the world on fire and, when their respective sides have been winning, they have not really needed to. As captains, the current score line represents which captain has won the battle of the tacticians with Clarke monster in Smith first up only for Smith to bounce back in the second test. The captain who wins both the battle with the willow and tactically will be the captain raising the trophy at the end of this series.
2. Steyn v Johnson:
This battle has intrigued and teased us throughout the series and again it has been a battle of extremes: when one of the has been down on form the other has been dominant. Both bowlers possess the ability, above all others in this test match, to take wickets in clusters and thus can turn a game in a 5 over spell. The spearhead that performs the best will be in the winners circle at the end of this test.
3. The Pitch
The fact is that the home side has every right to prepare a wicket that is going to suit their strengths and they did so brilliantly in Port Elizabeth. If that wicket is the same for this test match then it is will advantage South Africa right out the gate because they are clearly the superior team on pitches that are slower and conducive to reverse swing. A bit of life in the wicket swings the metronome more to the favour of the Australian team.
4. Australia’s Demons: 9/21 and 47
The baggy greens return to the first time to the site of one its greatest embarrassments. The title to this paragraph says it all: there will be demons for the Australians from the last time they were here and those demons will only be exacerbated if they loose a couple of early wickets. Getting past 21 and 47 with no wickets down will be important milestones for Clarke’s men.
5. The Warner Factor
I am not talking about his batting here. After baiting the South Africans with cheating allegations during the week and subsequently being fined one can expect that David Warner will be the subject of some special attention from the Proteas and their fans. If the South Africans can harness their anger and direct it well it could prove a very powerful ally. Equally if they go over the top and press too hard it could distract them from their task which plays right into the hands of the Australians.
This will be a fascinating game between two quality teams. I, for one am already on the edge of my seat in anticipation.