Ed Hawkins looks at a contest in Johanessburg which will still be a sideshow from Friday after the ball-tampering row...
"How do we work out what the hell is going on inside the minds of these Australian players? Are they so humiliated that a game of cricket is the last thing they want to do?"
South Africa v Australia
Friday March 30 09:00 BST
TV: live on Sky Sports
South Africa need to focus
South Africa have probably been sitting back looking on agog at the implosion of their rivals in this series. It has been a bitter, nasty battle at times but even they will struggle to take pleasure in the fall from grace of the Australian game.
As much as Australia have to put it from their mind for this contest, so to do South Africa. In Cape Town and Port Elizabeth, where they won to overturn Australia's 1-0 lead, they successfully played the ball and not the man after shenanigans which will now seem trivial by comparison to the ball-tampering scandal.
Focus is required to hold on and secure a historic series win at home over the Aussies. At Newlands they were bold by making changes to a winning XI, dropping Theunis de Bruyn for Temba Bavuma and Lungi Ngidi for Morne Morkel.
The recall of Morkel was inspired. He took nine wickets in the match and a pace attack comprising him, Kagiso Rabada and Vernon Philadenr is dangerous indeed.
With the bat Dean Elgar, their go-to man in the last 12 months, set it all up with a brilliant unbeaten 141. And AB De Villiers twisted the knife in the second dig with his second half-century.
Do Australia want to be there?
Unless you've been living under a rock, you won't have heard that Steve Smith, David Warner and Cameron Bancroft have been a bit naughty. They won't play. They won't play for some time with bans of a year for the captain and vice-skip and nine months for Bancroft.
So who will replace them? Joe Burns and Matt Renshaw will form a new-look opening partnership while Glenn Maxwell, also called up, will battle with Peter Handscomb for Smith slot. Given that Handscomb was involved in the cheating scandal - by passing on a message to Bancroft that he'd been rumbled - may mean that the Big Show is a shoo-in.
That's the easy part to decipher. How do we work out what the hell is going on inside the minds of these Australian players? Are they so humiliated that a game of cricket is the last thing they want to do? Or are they pumped to restore national pride? One suspects that a win here wouldn't even come close to achieving the latter.
Jo'burg was a terror track in January
Here are the last 12 first-innings scores in Tests in the last ten years (most recent first): 187-313-426-280-253-266-180-466-226-249-119-303. It is an average of 272. It could hardly be called a batsman's paradise. In January South Africa and India played a thriller on a surface which was so dangerous and unpredictable it was almost called off. India won thanks to batting first and using the threadbare pitch to their advantage.
The chances of a repeat are slim. The groundstaff were severely criticised. Still, last year Sri Lanka were bowled out for 131 and 177 by an all-pace attack so there might not be much they can do.
Aussies are underrated
South Africa's price has collapsed. They are as skinny as [1.58]. That is some drop from the [2.3] they were before Newlands. Australia are [5.2] and the draw is [5.7].
Aside from the talent drain with the absence of Smith and Warner, the rational behind the price move is clear: Australia don't want to be there. Certainly in the last dig at Cape Town they looked a broken team.
But on pure value we can't consider South Africa a bet. Putting all the psychological foibles and pitfalls to one side, it is very simple to make a case for the Aussies. After all, their bowling attack is still potent (no jokes please). A trade then could be the best way to get with them. It's a gamble for sure but the short prices about the hosts are no fun.
There is some rain forecast for the last three days so a back-to-lay of the draw could be an option, but only at inflated odds after the first two days of action.
Amla seeks return to form
Hashim Amla has a brilliant record at Jo'burg. He has 989 runs in 11 matches with three tons and six fifties. Ordinarily he is an automatic choice for a top runscorer wager at the venue but he is out of form, averaging just 25 in the series. He is 7/2 with Betfair Sportsbook. Elgar, as we have mentioned is their Mr Reliable, and gets a 7/2 quote. AB De Villiers, the top bat in the series, is 11/4.
Mitchell Marsh a mover and shaker
The top Australian runscorer market is a bun fight. Smith, the favourite, hadn't actually top scored though before his departure. So the No 1 on their run lists of available players is Mitchell Marsh. He could be all the rage at 6/1. Burns and Renshaw are 9/2 and 7/2 respectively. Usman Khawaja is 7/2. We analyse the top Aussie bat market here and take a look at side bets including Maxwell and De Villiers.
Based only on available prices. Does not include back-to-lay in-running match advice or commission rate. Figures 2013-2016 on 1pt level stakes. New points system (0.5pt-5) introduced for 2017. Includes Hawk-Eye stats column p-l
Back-to-lay Australia [5.2] to [2.2]