JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - Australia must overcome significant batting changes at the top of their order and the shame of a ball-tampering scandal if they are to avoid another piece of unwanted history against South Africa in the fourth test at The Wanderers starting on Friday.
The match is the last in what has been a tempestuous series, with South Africa leading 2-1 following their emphatic, and now infamous, 322-run victory in Cape Town, a game that will forever be remembered for an audacious attempted cheat by their opponents.
South Africa are seeking a first home series win over the Australians since 1970 and will be heavy favourites as they take their settled squad into the fixture against a touring side in chaos.
Former Australian captain Steve Smith, his deputy David Warner and Cameron Bancroft have all been sent home in disgrace for their roles in the tampering scandal, replaced by openers Matthew Renshaw and Joe Burns, and all-rounder Glenn Maxwell.
All are likely to slot straight into the side, with Renshaw, who made his debut against South Africa in 2016, to add to his 10 tests, Burns, who played the last of his 13 tests against the Proteas 17 months ago, and Maxwell (seven matches) showing form in domestic cricket.
Australia will have just one training session having cancelled practice on Wednesday, while the new arrivals will have to quickly overcome any lingering jet lag.
The extraordinary elevation of wicketkeeper Tim Paine as the team’s 46th test captain is a remarkable tale, even considering the circumstances, having last year considered quitting the game after finding himself out of the Tasmania side.
It is ironic that Paine made his test debut alongside Smith against Pakistan in 2010, but while the latter soared, he stagnated, only for their roles to be dramatically reversed this week.
Paine admits the fourth test will not just be about how the Australian team perform, but how their behaviour is viewed by the watching world as they look to put the recent scandal behind them.
“The one positive that may come of it is guys are going to get an opportunity to play for their country,” Paine told reporters.
“The whole opportunity for us going forward now is something we can learn from and something we can try to control (is) how we are seen going forward by our Australian public, and become the team that we want to become and they want us to be seen as.”
South Africa have kept the same squad that did duty in Cape Town, with their only real question what to do about the number six batting position, where Theunis de Bruyne and Temba Bavuma have both failed in the series so far.
It will be a final international match for fast bowler Morne Morkel, 33, who announced his retirement from international cricket prior to the series.
His match-winning aggregate of 9-110 in the last test took his tally of wickets to 306 in 85 tests.
Reporting By Nick Said; Editing by Christian Radnedge