AB de Villiers and Morne Morkel have been ruled out of South Africa's upcoming two-Test series against New Zealand with injury. Faf du Plessis will stand in as captain. Dale Steyn and Vernon Philander's return to fitness and Wayne Parnell's first Test call-up since the Australia series in 2014 will ensure South Africa's pace pack has several options including Kagiso Rabada, Chris Morris and Kyle Abbott.
For du Plessis, the elevation to captaincy is also a recall of sorts. He was dropped from the Test XI for South Africa's last Test, against England in January but will now automatically have his place back. It also means de Villiers will not play in his first series since being made permanent Test captain after the England series, following a period of uncertainty about his commitment to the national team.
De Villiers spent significant amounts of last summer discussing the need to manage his workload but towards the end, gave South Africans an assurance that he would not miss any international cricket but an elbow injury sustained during the CPL will rule him out of action for between six and eight weeks. "I'm naturally disappointed to miss the Test series against New Zealand, particularly because I have not missed a Test match through injury since my debut in 2004," de Villiers said. "However, with an exciting summer of cricket ahead, it is obviously sensible to allow my elbow time to heal properly."
Morkel, who also played in the CPL, has a bulging disk in his back and will be sidelined for four to six weeks. South Africa are hopeful of having both players fit for the start of the home ODI series against Australia in October.
Despite the two major injury concerns, South Africa welcome back Philander and Steyn, both of whom missed significant parts of last season with injury. Philander tore ankle ligaments in the warm-ups of the second Test against India while Steyn sustained groin and shoulder injuries that kept him out of six of South Africa's last eight Tests.
Philander made a return for his franchise, the Cape Cobras, towards the end of last season and has since played for South Africa's A side. Steyn was part of the World T20 squad and was rested from the ODI tri-series in the Caribbean but has played in both the NatWest T20 Blast and the CPL since, which has given South Africa's convener of selectors Linda Zondi some cause for comfort.
"It is most unfortunate that we will not be able to call on two players of the quality and experience of de Villiers and Morkel. However, we are fortunate to have a capable stand-in captain. Injuries are a reality that we have to deal with and with both Dale Steyn and Vernon Philander fit and firing again after respective long-term injuries, I am confident we have the players to take on New Zealand."
Among those players are JP Duminy, who has kept his place despite being dropped for the New Year's Test against England, sole specialist spinner Dane Piedt and Stiaan van Zyl, who is looking to find a spot in the middle order after being dropped as opening batsman in favour of Stephen Cook, who is set to keep his place. Zondi had previously indicated Cook will be given a fair run to establish himself and proof of that came when Cook was named captain of the South Africa A side.
He led the team in Zimbabwe last month and is doing the same job in the ongoing series in Australia. Although the A side were beaten by Australia A in their first four-day game, their victories in Zimbabwe has convinced Zondi the players have had enough game time in preparation for New Zealand. He said it was a "very encouraging sign" that Test squad members had performed well in Zimbabwe.
South Africa's Test squad members have only had the A matches to prepare for in seven months, since the series against England in January. Abbott and Rabada have played county cricket but the rest have mostly been occupied at T20 leagues.
It is also South Africa's first series since CSA confirmed they will be introducing a target on the number of players of colour in their teams in accordance with a memorandum of understanding signed with the South African sports ministry. Specific numbers have not been confirmed. However, at the weekend Afrikaans-language newspaper Rapport claimed CSA have agreed on six players of colour in every starting XI, of which at least two must be black African. In this squad, South Africa have seven players of colour which includes two black Africans.
South Africa squad: Faf du Plessis (capt), Kyle Abbott, Hashim Amla, Temba Bavuma, Stephen Cook, Quinton de Kock (wk), JP Duminy, Dean Elgar, Chris Morris, Wayne Parnell, Vernon Philander, Dane Piedt, Kagiso Rabada, Dale Steyn, Stiaan van Zyl