CAPE TOWN – Both teams have been here before. Four years ago, they arrived at this most scenic of venues locked at 1-1 after an epic contest in Port Elizabeth.
Now, the two teams are here again at the foot of Table Mountain after a South African fast bowler turned St George’s Park into his own coliseum.
The only difference this time is that the Proteas’ PE gladiator is a fire-snorting Kagiso Rabada, instead of Dale Steyn in 2014.
So fierce was Rabada that he was desperately close to missing this third battle altogether.
Only a late intervention from Advocate Dali Mpofu, assisted by CSA’s legal team, caused the ICC’s judicial commissioner Michael Heron to overturn a two-match suspension.
Needless to say, Proteas captain Faf du Plessis welcomed the New Zealander’s verdict that opened the way for him to attack Australia armed with his chief strike weapon.
“I don’t see a problem with having a fair system where a neutral guy sits and makes a decision and listens to both parties,” said Du Plessis, who even joked that he wished Heron had overseen his own appeal against a ball-tampering charge in Australia in 2016.
Proteas captain @faf1307 spoke to the media ahead of the 3rd #SunfoilTest which starts tomorrow in Cape Town. Here he is discussing the wicket & selection options. #ProteaFire #SAvAUS pic.twitter.com/lcIGyzBwLP
“I was there at that (Rabada’s) hearing and I said to our people that even if we didn’t win that case, I was very impressed with the judge and how he listened to both sides. He was very fair in the questions that he asked, so I think that process is fair.
“It’s good to have that platform where if you feel you have not done something wrong, you can have someone that sits in the middle and has a fair, objective point of view.”
The fact that Australia’s captain Steve Smith is not singing from the same hymn sheet as his counterpart Du Plessis, citing the fact that he was absent from the hearing, may mean that the ill-temperedness that has marred this series could continue even on such a hallowed piece of turf as Newlands.
That would be a darn shame, for the actual cricket played in the first two Tests has been riveting, and is only expected to get even better in front of what is expected to be the biggest turnout of the series.
For the good of the game and this compelling series at heart, the hope is that both teams remain focused on taking an all-important 2-1 lead with only one to play.
Nobody expects broad smiles and handshakes, but it was refreshing to hear Du Plessis say that his team have their eyes locked on the immense challenge that lays ahead over the next five days.
“There was a big hype away from the game, but in the team, it’s not got into our space as yet. The guys are still really focused, still motivated. We’re feeling really good,” the skipper said.
“Two quality teams trying to compete against each other and it’s been great cricket, so it is setting up nicely for Newlands.
“If you look at the two games, if there is an hour or hour-and-a-half when a team slips up, the opposition is so strong, they push through and win the game.”
“It’s important for me to make runs. The Aussies have been keeping me quiet in this series... I’m very motivated to make a big play...” Faf on his own batting form. #ProteaFire #SAvAUS #SunfoilTest pic.twitter.com/crZVaIuUwP
South Africa certainly have a spring in their step. Not only is Rabada’s availability a special bonus, but there were signs in Port Elizabeth that the batting unit were slowly rediscovering some form.
More importantly, it was the senior core of Dean Elgar, Hashim Amla and AB de Villiers that kept Australia in the field for a long period of time.
This forced Smith to bring the likes of Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood and Pat Cummins back for third and fourth spells, naturally reducing their impact.
“They can’t run in bowling 150 (km/h) all day. It’s human that you will be 5% or 2% lower in the tank than you were initially,” Du Plessis said.
But even after producing such a well-rounded display only a week after such a wretched defeat at Kingsmead, Du Plessis hinted that the batting could be further strengthened with the inclusion of fit-again Temba Bavuma at his home ground.
Equally, there might be some tinkering to the bowling unit, with Morné Morkel being called upon for Lungi Ngidi, even though the latter claimed five wickets at St George’s Park after replacing the veteran.
Either way, come 10.30am Thursday morning at Newlands, all eyes will thankfully once again be on wickets and runs, and the only appeal heard will be that of the bowler.
Teams For Newlands
South Africa (possible): Aiden Markram, Dean Elgar, Hashim Amla, AB de Villiers, Faf du Plessis (captain), Quinton de Kock, Theunis de Bruyn/Temba Bavuma, Vernon Philander, Keshav Maharaj, Kagiso Rabada, Lungi Ngidi/Morné Morkel.
Australia: David Warner, Cameron Bancroft, Usman Khawaja, Steve Smith (captain), Shaun Marsh, Mitchell Marsh, Tim Paine, Pat Cummins, Mitchell Starc, Nathan Lyon, Josh Hazlewood.
Start: 10.30am. TV: SS2, SABC3. Radio: Radio 2000.