Fast bowler Vernon Philander has been ruled out of the first Test against Bangladesh as he continues to recover from a lower back niggle sustained during the England series this winter. Allrounder Chris Morris is unavailable for the entire Test series and is only likely to return for the T20s in late October. Seamer Lungi Ngidi, who had a lumbar fracture, may also make a return in that series. However, there is no set timeline for Dale Steyn's comeback, although the T20 Global League in November could be on his radar.
In Philander and Morris' absence, South Africa will likely field a Test attack comprising Morne Morkel, Kagiso Rabada and Duanne Olivier with Wayne Parnell, Andile Phehlukwayo and Beuran Hendricks all awaiting their chance. The Test squad will be announced towards the end of the opening round of first-class matches, which begins on Tuesday.
"We've had a number of challenges on the fast bowling front," Mohammed Moosajee, South Africa's team manager, who is also a medical doctor, said. "The first to chat about is Vernon Philander. During the Test series in England, he dived for a ball and injured his lower back. His progress has been coming along well but he is only bowling at 80% capacity currently. The plan for him is to prepare for the four day match against the Cobras beginning on 28 September. Should he come through that, he should be available for the second Test against Bangladesh. At the moment, he is only building up to full intensity so we are not going to risk him to play during the first Test."
Philander's fitness has become a concern, especially after he came under severe criticism from former captain Graeme Smith during the England series. Smith warned Philander that unless he works more on conditioning, his career was at risk of fading away.
Morris' injury, also a back niggle, requires at least 10 weeks of recovery time. Moosajee is hopeful Morris will be available to play a franchise match in mid-October. "If he is symptom free he might be available for the Bangladesh ODI series but the T20 series is more of a reality," he said.
Ngidi suffered a much more serious problem when he sustained a fracture on the South African A tour of England but has come through well. "He is now in his final stages of rehab," Moosajee said. Ngidi will also target a mid-October return to be able to make himself available for the latter part of the Bangladesh series.
But Bangladesh will not have to worry about facing Steyn. He has been all but ruled out of the entire tour after another delay in his long-awaited return. Steyn had been out of action since November last year when he broke a bone in his shoulder. It appears the earliest he could come back is November, to play for the Cape Town Knight Riders in the inaugural T20 Global League.
"For the past six weeks, the plan was very much to have him ready to start the four-day Sunfoil match for the Titans starting today but unfortunately last week he developed a strain to the muscle in his troublesome right shoulder," Moosajee said. "We are not going to set an artificial timeline for Dale Steyn. The plan right now is to get him ready for competitive cricket when he is ready and we are hoping that it will be a slow and graduated return to full intensity bowling. In reality the target will only be the Global T20 in November."
Steyn, who needs five wickets to overtake Shaun Pollock as South Africa's leading wicket-taker, has stated his intention to try to play for another two to three years.
Although not in the Test frame, Wayne Parnell was also forced to miss Cobras' first-class opener after sustaining a groin strain during the weekend.
Moosajee reiterated that with South Africa's long summer ahead, player management will be key. "We need to look at the volume of cricket, there is too much cricket taking place for some of these fast bowlers. Maybe we need to wrap some of them up in cotton wool," he said. "The plan is to get them rehabilitated and when that happens, the focus will be to control the volume of cricket that they play and the different formats that they play."