No Rabada, no excuses for Aussies
KAGISO Rabada's series-ending suspension has left Australia's underperforming batsmen with no excuses in South Africa.
For some, it's either find another level or perish as Australia sets out to not only claim this prized series but continually fine-tune the exact personnel they believe can finally bring home the Ashes from England next year.
Australia appear unlikely to make any changes to the team that was comprehensively beaten in Port Elizabeth, unless Mitchell Marsh fails to recover from a groin strain - Marcus Stoinis could find himself on a plane if cover is needed.
However, the pressure is on the likes of Cameron Bancroft and Usman Khawaja in particular to produce the hallmark innings that can cement them in the Test side for all conditions.
No Australian batsman has yet made a century nor has anyone been consistent enough to average 40, and unless those numbers are rectified, AB de Villiers will likely lead South Africa to victory in the final two Tests in Cape Town and Johannesburg.
There were devastating periods during Rabada's 11-wicket one-man show in Port Elizabeth where Australia's batsmen were rendered almost powerless against his rampaging reverse swing and pace.
But with Rabada gone and no Dale Steyn to replace him, a window of opportunity has opened for Australia's batsmen to seize the advantage.
Coach Darren Lehmann says hundreds will be the make-or-break for the likes of Bancroft, Khawaja and his top order as the series goes on the line.
"They both looked good. You'd love them to go on. That's the difference at the moment," said Lehmann.
"AB went on, got 126 and that hurts you in this sort of format. When the series is going to be so tight, runs are going to be at a premium against two quality bowling attacks.
"We need those guys to go on once they get in.
"It's never good seeing fantastic bowlers out of a series … they're going to miss him, there's no doubt about that … but for us it doesn't matter who plays. We've got to play and bat better than in the first two Test matches."
Bancroft has shown improvements and Australia rightly want to show faith in him after backing the West Australian in for the Ashes.
But young Queenslander Renshaw is another up and coming star on their radar, and he has made an emphatic statement back home with three consecutive Sheffield Shield hundreds to lead the Bulls into the final.
Renshaw has proven himself already with a Test century and he would appear destined to wear the baggy green again at some point.
For Khawaja, his 75 in the second innings in Port Elizabeth was an outstanding knock and a representation of the left-hander's true class.
But one score alone isn't enough to resurrect his poor overseas record, and at this point the two-Test tour against Pakistan in the UAE scheduled for later in the year shapes as an intriguing test of selectors' loyalties given they chopped and changed him so ruthlessly in the sub-continent last year.
Lehmann says his batsmen ought to learn from the 88-run partnership between Hashim Amla and Dean Elgar in South Africa's first innings, which was patient enough to wear out Australia's bowlers for de Villiers to come in and change the game.
Warner looked excellent for his 63 in Port Elizabeth but Australia desperately need him to kick on for a hundred to build the innings and take the heat out of the South African attack.
Smith produced superhuman efforts in India last year and also against England during the Ashes summer, but so far has been outgunned by opposite number de Villiers.
Lehmann said the skipper is burning.
"There's a few good players in the series, not just those two, de Villiers and Smith," said Lehmann.
"He's disappointed with his output. He sets his standards so high, so we expect him to come back strong in the last two Test matches and have a real impact.
"I thought (Warner) played beautifully first innings. He and Bangers (Bancroft) did a great job for us first half. It would have been nice if one of those goes on and gets a hundred, but I thought (Warner) played really well."