About the only guarantee when South Africa take on Pakistan in the third and final Test at Cape Town is that both sides should have eleven players, the pitch will be 22 yards long and each end will have three stumps and a couple of bails. One ICC-enforced ban, multiple injury concerns and fears of burn-out with the World Cup ahead, means that the decider of what has been a wonderfully tense, evenly-fought series might be less tense than it ought to be.
Take the hosts. This is now their sixth Test in the last month; they played five ODIs just before their first Test in November and are due to play another five immediately after this series. James Brown, the hardest-working man in showbiz God bless his soul, would've been proud. So with the World Cup just over a month away, it comes as little surprise that Graeme Smith was considering resting both Shaun Pollock and Makhaya Ntini.
He decided reluctantly on just the former, probably keeping in mind that Ntini could run in for another three-Test series before the World Cup if needed. But with Andre Nel also sitting out and Dale Steyn or Morne Morkel primed to take over, South Africa are missing two key modern-day fast bowling ingredients: dot balls and verbals.
The top of their order is also likely to be re-jigged though that isn't such a bad thing given the form of AB de Villiers. He may well be the only South African happy about the one-Test ban on Herschelle Gibbs, as it means he doesn't freefall out of the XI entirely, instead hurtling down and resting at number six. Boeta Dippenaar gets another chance as Test opener, allowing Sherlock, the good doctor and all amateur sleuths another crack at one of cricket's most intriguing mysteries: why is Dippenaar, a man clearly designed with Test match batting in mind, so much better as, of all the things, an ODI opener?
As long as they can reduce him to de Villiers's figures, Pakistan won't much care for the question. What will worry them instead is why they have begun to resemble an infirmary of sorts over the last year. The injury list can be explained partly by the fact that this is now their 15th Test in the last year, the most they have ever had to deal with.
Fast bowlers have suffered most and none have played in all the Tests in that period. Umar Gul has gone back, with an ankle injury that remains shrouded in mystery: he could miss the World Cup or he could just be resting as a precaution. Shabbir Ahmed was meant to fly over as cover for him, but like the earlier man sent to cover for Gul - Shoaib Akhtar - he too is crocked.
So Pakistan will rely on Mohammad Asif, Mohammad Sami, Danish Kaneria and possibly recall Shahid Nazir. Noises are emerging that Asif has already been overworked, having bowled nearly 90 overs thus far in the series. Kaneria has bowled 40 more and only a few days on from their gargantuan efforts at Port Elizabeth, it is a considerable concern.
Additionally, Inzamam-ul-Haq and Mohammad Hafeez have the by-now almost obligatory niggles. Imran Farhat isn't injured though the reactions his last dismissal induced in Pakistan might make him wish he was. The voices for Asim Kamal to be included are getting louder, with Yasir Hameed moving up to open, but for now, persisting with as much of the winning XI as is possible seems likely.
Bob Woolmer told Telepk.com that the mood in the camp was "pretty upbeat" and that the team underwent a hard training session yesterday. If so, it's commendable given the drama during the second Test between Shoaib and Woolmer and the resulting friction between Inzamam and the selection committee. Then again, relative to what they have been through over the last year, upbeat is probably about right.
South Africa (from) Graeme Smith (capt), Boeta Dippenaar, Hashim Amla, Jacques Kallis, Ashwell Prince, AB de Villiers, Mark Boucher (wk), Andrew Hall, Morne Morkel, Paul Harris, Dale Steyn, Makhaya Ntini
Pakistan (probable) Imran Farhat, Mohammad Hafeez, Yasir Hameed, Younis Khan, Mohammad Yousuf, Inzamam-ul-Haq (capt), Kamran Akmal (wk), Mohammad Sami, Shahid Nazir, Danish Kaneria, Mohammad Asif