Both Australia and South Africa acquired a sharper edge ahead of the third test in a finely balanced series as each learned a key bowler could play in the third test starting Thursday.
Mitchell Starc, Australia’s match-winner in the first in Durban, has recovered from a sore calf, while Kagiso Rabada, who took 11 wickets as South Africa won the second in Port Elizabeth, has had a two-test ban overturned.
Conditions at Newlands are less likely to assist the fast reverse swing the pair achieved in the first two matches, but with a good covering of grass two days before the match, the pitch should offer more pace and bounce. That could make the accuracy and persistence of South Africa’s Vernon Philander and Australia’s Josh Hazlewood could be crucial.
Philander has a remarkable record at Newlands, where he has taken 47 wickets in eight Tests at an average of 16.34 but Hazlewood will be playing in his first Test at the ground.
Philander has had mixed fortunes in two Tests against Australia at Newlands. He made a sensational debut in November 2011, taking five for 15 as Australia were bowled out for 47 in the second innings. He had match figures of eight for 78 in a South African win.
But he could only take one for 158 in the match when a pair of centuries by David Warner led Australia to a series-clinching win in March 2014, the most recent occasion on which a Test has been played at the ground so late in a South African season.
Rabada’s availability simplifies South Africa’s selection after the hosts named a squad of 17 players to allow for a variety of combinations.
Now South Africa’s most likely debates are expected to be whether the extra bounce of Morne Morkel might earn him selection ahead of Lungi Ngidi or whether a fit-again Temba Bavuma should replace Theunis de Bruyn.
Australia are unlikely to make any changes to the team that has represented them in seven successive Tests. In addition to Starc, all-rounder Mitchell Marsh was passed fit after suffering a groin strain in Port Elizabeth.
Following the schedule published before the series, there will be a complete change of match officials for the last two matches. Andy Pycroft of Zimbabwe will take over from New Zealand’s Jeff Crowe as match referee, while three English umpires will officiate in the middle and as television umpire.