South Africa's reputation as one of the leading Test nations will be at stake when they try to stop England from clinching a series win in the fourth and final Test starting at the Wanderers Stadium on Thursday.
After away series wins against both Australia and England in 2008, South Africa briefly topped the International Cricket Council's Test rankings.
But they suffered a home series defeat against Australia last year and trail the current series 1-0 to face the prospect of another failure on home soil.
England won the second Test in Durban by an innings and 98 runs, although in both the first and third Tests the tourists had narrow escapes, hanging on with nine wickets down in the final innings.
South African all-rounder Jacques Kallis said it had been frustrating because his side felt they were the better team - 'although the England players might disagree' - but said South Africa had only themselves to blame for being in a must-win situation.
"They haven't given up," Kallis said of England.
"They've been in tough situations in two games where they've been able to get their way out of it.
"That shows a lot of fight and character. Unfortunately in Durban we were in England's situation and we crumbled. As much as we say we were unlucky we were in the same situation and we failed."
Kallis said the conditions at the Wanderers could favour South Africa although he said the pitch might not be as lively as some pundits expected.
"I've had a look at it and it's not as green as I have seen here before," he said.
"I don't think it's going to be as bad as people think, although it's going to do a bit and you will need skill to get through it.
"Our guys are used to playing on wickets with a bit of bounce and where it goes around a bit, probably a bit more than England are. Hopefully that plays in our favour."
It has been a disappointing series for the host nation, whose bowlers have not fired collectively in the first three matches.
South Africa are gambling on likely new cap Wayne Parnell providing penetrative support to Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel on a pitch that should favour seam bowling.
The left-armed Parnell, 20, has shown rich promise in taking 22 wickets at an average of 21.00 in nine one-day internationals and 11 in eight Twenty20 internationals at 17.45.
But his first-class record is mediocre, with 51 wickets in 20 matches at 34.60. Although he has taken five wickets in an innings twice in one-day internationals he has yet to achieve the feat in a first-class game.
Steyn and Morkel both produced fiery spells during the third Test in Cape Town but South Africa were a bowler short because of an injury to Friedel de Wet which has ruled him out for the rest of the season.
England took two days off at a luxury resort after their Cape Town escape but Paul Collingwood, who played crucial rearguard innings in both draws - as well as making 91 to help set up the Durban win - said England were determined to produce one more big performance.
"The last two days in training, we've shown a lot of energy," said Collingwood.
"This week means a lot of us. It was nice to have a couple of days break but we have to come out and play. We can't sit back and rely on this position. It's a huge week for us. We want to go away winning the series."
Collingwood said the tourists would be buoyed by the spirit they had shown in the two drawn Tests.
"To have this kind of resilience when you're under the pump is a great strength to have in a team.
"You need your flair, your bits of genius, but we've shown in the last six months, we've got it in the locker if we need it."
The weather could play a role in what has been an unusually wet summer in Johannesburg, with a possibility of showers or thunderstorms on all five days.
South Africa: Graeme Smith (capt), Ashwell Prince, Hashim Amla, Jacques Kallis, AB de Villiers, JP Duminy, Mark Boucher (wkt), Dale Steyn, Morne Morkel, Paul Harris, Wayne Parnell.
England: Andrew Strauss (capt), Alastair Cook, Jonathan Trott, Kevin Pietersen, Paul Collingwood, Ian Bell, Matt Prior (wkt), Stuart Broad, Graeme Swann, James Anderson, Graham Onions.
Umpires: Steve Davis (AUS), Tony Hill (NZL)
TV umpire: Daryl Harper (AUS).
Match referee: Roshan Mahanama (SRI). AFP