By Nick Said
CAPE TOWN (Reuters) - Crushing victories for either side in the first two matches have set up a potentially thrilling decider when South Africa host Australia in the final test at Newlands in Cape Town on Saturday.
The tourists blazed their way to a comprehensive 281-run victory in the opening game in Pretoria, but South Africa proved their resilience with an equally emphatic 231-run success in Port Elizabeth last weekend.
The Proteas are now seeking a first home test series win over Australia in 44 years on a ground where they have lost just once in 12 years and 16 matches - to the Australians in 2006.
A worry for the home side is the form of captain Graeme Smith, who has scored just 37 runs in four innings, but Proteas coach Russell Domingo has backed his skipper to come good on a ground where he averages 52 in tests.
"Graeme's record speaks for itself, it is rare he goes through a series without making a contribution with the bat. His contribution as captain is always huge. He has just found ways of getting out, there have been some strange dismissals."
Australia have a similar problem. Captain Michael Clarke has not gone past 24 in his last 11 test innings and is the only one in the top six not to get significant runs in this series.
South Africa will hope to be more clinical in the field, where they have put in two nervous performances in the series so far.
Smith joked at the post-match presentation in Port Elizabeth that his side had actually taken 28 wickets in the test given their high number of spills.
For Domingo though it was no laughing matter and he called it is a case of anxiety getting the better of the players.
"We have always prided ourselves on our fielding and generally we have fielded well in the past," Domingo said.
"But if you put one or two down, there is some anxiety that comes in and it leads to more errors. It's part of the game and nobody does it on purpose. It's the same with referrals to the third umpire, if you get some wrong you begin to doubt yourself."
Both teams face selection posers. For South Africa it is who to replace the injured Wayne Parnell and whether to bring in a specialist spinner. Domingo praised the work of part-timers JP Duminy and Dean Elgar in Port Elizabeth, suggesting it is unlikely Robin Peterson would be recalled.
"I was very happy with the spinners in PE, being a spinner in South Africa is a tough job, it is more of a holding role. I think JP and Dean did a very good job."
Australia will offer a late fitness test to all-rounder Shane Watson, who will be selected only if he is able to bowl.
If he clears the test, Watson would likely replace Shaun Marsh, who picked up a pair in Port Elizabeth.
"We'll make the decision when we see the wicket but he's got to be fully fit," Australia coach Darren Lehman said.
"Watson will play as long as he is bowling well and fit. It's a question of waiting to see. It's a conundrum for the selectors."
(Editing by Amlan Chakraborty)