Left-arm spinner Keshav Maharaj was picked ahead of fast bowler Morne Morkel because Morkel is not yet fully match-fit following a back injury that has sidelined him for the last two months and also because South Africa expect the WACA pitch to break up.
"Keshav has done quite well domestically and with Morne Morkel coming back from injury, he is not100% fit," South Africa batsman Temba Bavuma, who scored a half-century on the first day of the Perth Test, said. "Also considering the wicket might break down, it would be good to have a spinner."
Bavuma, who spent more time than any of his team-mates bar Quinton de Kock in the middle, said that cracks may only show up much later in the game though. "When I was batting, I didn't see any substantial breaking down of the wicket," he said, in reference to South Africa's hopes of making amends for being dismissed for 242. "The wicket still looks true. The ball is starting to skid on, which is a good sign.
"What's happened has happened. We can't do anything to change it. Its quite obvious they have the upper hand but there will be an opportunity to knuckle down in the second innings."
Before they get there, South Africa will have to bowl Australia out for what Bavuma hoped would be "as low a total as possible," without Morkel, whose absence on a bouncy surface was glaring. At the toss, du Plessis explained that though he had declared Morkel "fit and in contention," pre-match, there were concerns about his ability to sustain a heavy workload.
"Morne has been bowling well. He's actually coming off an injury, so he's probably about 90-95% ready. Bowling long spells for him is still a little bit of a concern," du Plessis said. "We just want to give him a couple of days to make sure that back gets fully fit. But I think a spinner in these conditions will be perfect."
Since making his comeback, Morkel played in only one first-class match, for the Titans against the Warriors. He bowled 26 overs in the first innings and took 3 for 54. But he bowled only four overs in a short second innings and was seen doing fitness drills every day in the lead-up to this match.
South Africa also have transformation targets to consider. With a requirement of a minimum average of six players of colour, of which at least two must be black African, over the course of a season, Morkel's inclusion could put their numbers out. They met the requirement in the Perth Test.