South Africa's ODI captain AB de Villiers will sit out the one-off match against Ireland on September 25 to allow himself more time to recover from the elbow injury that kept him out of the New Zealand Tests. Faf du Plessis will captain the team in his absence while Rilee Rossouw, who has recovered from a shoulder injury sustained in the triangular series in the Caribbean in June, was added to the squad as batting cover.
De Villiers' participation in the first ODI of the five-match series against Australia, which follows the Ireland game, hinges on a fitness test which he will undergo early next week. Should he fail that test, not only will he be ruled out of the remaining matches in that series, but he will have to undergo surgery which will keep him out action for six to eight weeks and force him to miss South Africa's Test tour of Australia.
"AB has an impingement syndrome, so when he plays certain cricket shots, he gets excruciating pain in the left elbow. Sometimes, it does settle with a conservative approach, but unfortunately, in AB's case it hasn't been so," Mohammad Moosajee, South Africa's team manager, said. "We are giving him another week, and thereafter a call will be made. He needs to pass the fitness test, the elbow needs up to stand up to the rigours of international cricket. If he does not come through the fitness test, a date for surgery will be set. We don't want to pre-empt that, we want to give him every opportunity to try and recover from that injury. But if he has surgery, he will be out of the Test series."
When asked whether de Villiers' injury was a result of overuse, Moosajee conceded that the cluttered cricket calendar may have had something to do with the problem. "We refer to it as overload, whether that's doing too much and playing different shots, or related to overuse. The fact that there have been some other tournaments like the IPL has added to the load, but we need to understand that having played more than 10 years of international cricket, there are going to be challenges where you will have some sort of injury."
As a consequence, Russell Domingo, South Africa's coach, who blamed the schedule for player fatigue after South Africa failed to reach the final of the Caribbean triangular series in June, was forced to reiterate the impact of mushrooming T20 leagues on the national side. "When I said so after the West Indies tour, I took a beating from a lot of people in public and the media, but I am saying again, there's no doubt guys are playing too many games, too many formats and too many competitions," Domingo said. "And at the end of the day, we, as a national side, sit with issues because we are sort of keeping guys fit to go and play in other tournaments, which sometime can be a bit painful for me."
De Villiers is not South Africa's only major absence. Morne Morkel also missed the New Zealand Tests with a back problem and has not been included in the ODI squad at all, while Hashim Amla will not play the Ireland game and may not be available for the first ODI against Australia as he awaits the birth of this third child. Temba Bavuma, one of South Africa's three new caps, will open the batting in Amla's place, as South Africa look to groom him for that role in future.
"Temba has got really good attributes for an opening batter. He is really good in terms of his technique. He is a guy that can bat for long periods of time, he can hit the bad ball for four," Domingo said. "Maybe, at this stage in his one-day career, he is probably not suited coming in at 5 or 6 and trying to hit fours and sixes at the back end. This allows him a nice start in international one-day cricket because he can just pay normally. If he hits a good cricket shot in the first five or six overs, it will go for four, whereas if he hits a good cricket shot in the last ten overs, it might go for one. It's a nice spot for him to try and find a niche in one-day cricket. I am very excited to see what he can offer."
Bavuma, allrounder Dwaine Pretorius, and bowler Andile Phelukwayo are all looking to make their debuts against Ireland, with only Phelukwayo being retained for the Australia matches.