Vernon Philander has encountered yet another fitness issue which puts South Africa in a selection quandary for the must-win Old Trafford Test.
The linchpin seamer has recovered from the mystery stomach upset which compromised his contribution as the tourists stumbled to a 239-run defeat against England at The Oval.
But as they try to hit back and earn a 2-2 series draw in the final match of four in Manchester, they may again have to take a last-minute gamble on the well-being of Philander – who has this time succumbed to an untimely back spasm.
It continues a spate of various physical ailments to have afflicted him all summer, beginning with an ankle problem which pre-dates South Africa’s arrival in mid-May, taking in a badly-bruised finger in the first Investec Test at Lord’s – before the tummy troubles which left him on a hospital drip overnight mid-match last week.
Captain Faf du Plessis confirmed Philander is once again in discomfort – and although the tourists are hoping he will recover in time on Friday morning, the uncertainty has left them grappling with an awkward contingency.
“Vernon is going to go through a fitness test today – he’s got a tight back, but he should be okay,” said Du Plessis, who reasons that if Philander is even marginally inconvenienced the balance of South Africa’s team may well have to change.
“Vernon 100 per cent fit means a lot of things – it means we can look at playing three seamers.
“Vernon at 90 per cent doesn’t mean you can do that, because you don’t want to be in a position where you have a seamer break down and then you only have two – that basically is the Test match over right there and then.
“So if he’s not 100 per cent fit, it’s important to maybe have a look at having four seamers.”
That would bring Duanne Olivier back into contention, after being dropped following South Africa’s second-Test success at Trent Bridge in order to accommodate the return at The Oval of Kagiso Rabada from his one-match ban.
Whatever the personnel, South Africa will be forthright rather than cagey as they try to snatch a share of the series spoils on a ground Du Plessis once called home as Lancashire’s overseas player.
“We’ll do everything we can to try to win this Test match – we’re not going to try to draw it,” he said.
“The way England play, they put pressure on you as opposition, but they (also) give you an opportunity.”