Vernon Philander has recovered from a slight ankle impingement and is expected to take his usual place in South Africa's Test squad, which departs for New Zealand in the weekend. Philander struggled with the niggle in the aftermath of South Africa's home series against Sri Lanka, and did not play any cricket for over a month. But he returned to play a List A game for his franchise, Cobras, on Wednesday and will turn out for them again on Friday before leaving.
Philander bowled eight overs against Warriors in East London and finished as the most economical bowler in his team's 57-run win. He claimed 1 for 38, with Simon Harmer his victim. Philander will play Friday's match against Titans, where another pacer, Morne Morkel, will be hopeful of staking a claim for a national comeback.
Morkel has not played for South Africa since June last year and has been battling a back injury that he has revealed was considered career-ending. Morkel suffered from a bulging spinal disc during the CPL, and has only been able to take small steps towards bowling in the last eight months. He travelled with South Africa's Test squad to Australia and played three warm-up matches. But he was not risked for the internationals and was primed for a comeback during the one-dayers against Sri Lanka, although he did not regain fitness in time. He has since played one List A game, where he gave away 53 runs in eight overs and went wicketless, and now has to hope it is enough for a recall.
South Africa would welcome Morkel's experience in a pace pack that has lost Kyle Abbott to a Kolpak deal, but may also be wary of having him break down mid-tour. If Morkel does not make the Test cut, he will likely continue to play in the domestic one-day cup in a bid for a spot in the Champions Trophy squad, where South Africa are still searching for a new-ball partner for Kagiso Rabada.
Without Morkel, South Africa will seek to add a bowler, most likely an allrounder to back up their Test pace attack that will include Philander, Rabada and Duanne Olivier, who made his debut last month. Olivier should edge ahead of Wayne Parnell in the playing XI. Parnell could well be the reserve bowler, although Chris Morris and Dwaine Pretorius, who are currently with the ODI squad in New Zealand, are also making strong cases for inclusion.
South Africa's batting line-up is settled despite the absence of AB de Villiers, who has mostly made himself unavailable for Test cricket for the rest of 2017. Dean Elgar, Stephen Cook, Faf du Plessis, Hashim Amla, JP Duminy and Temba Bavuma make up the top six, with Quinton de Kock, the wicket-keeper batsman, at No.7.
Knights captain Theunis de Bruyn, who finished third on the first-class rankings, and was the reserve batsman for the Sri Lanka series, is expected to travel in that capacity again. Interestingly, South Africa are also likely to take a reserve glovesman as back-up for de Kock. Although Rudi Second, who finished sixth on the first-class run-charts, was considered the favourite, Titans' Heinrich Klaasen, who was seventh, is thought to be in line for a maiden call-up.