Vernon Philander is being prepped for a Test return after being named in South Africa's A side to play four-day games in Zimbabwe and Australia ahead of a packed summer schedule. Philander only played three first-class games in the 2015-16 domestic season after tearing ankle ligaments before South Africa's second Test against India in Bangalore in November last year. He has not been picked in the ODI squad and has not had any game time over the winter after failing to secure a County deal but remains in South Africa's long-format plans.
Philander is part of a 15-member squad for the Zimbabwe series - captained by new Test opener Stephen Cook, who made his debut in last summer's final fixture - that also includes offspinner Dane Piedt, while the contingent for the Australia series includes Dean Elgar and Temba Bavuma, as South Africa prepare for 11 Tests in the 2016-17 summer, which includes a three-match tour of Australia.
"A number of the Test squad regulars, who are not involved in the current tri-series in the Caribbean, have been included in the four-day squads at the request of national coach, Russell Domingo. This will give them quality match practice ahead of the two-match series against New Zealand in August," Linda Zondi, South Africa's convener of selectors, said. "Vernon Philander, in particular, has not had a lot of cricket, following his long-term injury lay-off."
Despite the endorsement from the administrators, Philander's comeback is not guaranteed. He will have to fight for a place in a pack that includes Dale Steyn - who has also not played Test cricket since December and has not been included in the A squads - Kagiso Rabada, Morne Morkel and Kyle Abbott. South Africa are also looking at developing a second tier that includes Hardus Viljoen and Andile Phelukwayo.
Test discards Stiaan van Zyl and Dane Vilas have also been included in the four-day squads, keeping their hopes of pushing for places alive. There are four new additions to the four-day squad: all-rounder Dwaine Pretorius and three bowlers - Sisanda Magala, Malusi Siboto and Duanne Olivier.
After the four-day matches, South Africa A will feature in an annual fifty-over tri-series against the A teams from Australia and India. Wayne Parnell will captain the side to further underline his place in South Africa's future. Parnell is currently with the ODI side in the Caribbean, making his comeback after a season on the sidelines. "Wayne Parnell gets the opportunity to develop his leadership skills in the one-day format. He was an outstanding captain of our national under-19 side and took them to the final of the under-19 World Cup in 2008," Zondi said.
The one-day side includes David Miller, who was dropped for the West Indies tour, and Rilee Rossouw and Aaron Phangiso, who are part of the trip. There is also space for Eddie Leie, who has played T20 cricket for South Africa, and Khaya Zondo, who was part of the limited-overs squads that toured India in 2015 but did not play a game.
Four-day Squad to Zimbabwe: Stephen Cook (capt), Qaasim Adams, Theunis de Bruyn, Heino Kuhn, Sisanda Magala, Keshav Maharaj, Duanne Olivier, Andile Phehlukwayo, Vernon Philander, Dane Piedt, Dwaine Pretorius, Omphile Ramela, Stiaan van Zyl, Dane Vilas, Hardus Viljoen
Four-day Squad to Australia: Stephen Cook (capt), Qaasim Adams, Temba Bavuma, Dean Elgar, Heino Kuhn, Sisanda Magala, Keshav Maharaj, Duanne Olivier, Wayne Parnell, Andile Phehlukwayo, Vernon Philander, Dane Piedt, Omphile Ramela, Stiaan van Zyl, Dane Vilas, Hardus Viljoen
One-day squad: Wayne Parnell (capt), Qaasim Adams, Marchant de Lange, Reeza Hendricks, Heino Kuhn, Eddie Leie, Sisanda Magala, Aaron Phangiso, Andile Phehlukwayo, Dwaine Pretorius, Rilee Rossouw, Malusi Siboto, Khaya Zondo, David Miller, Dane Vilas