South Africa's strength going in to the VB Series is diminishing, with Andre Nel, the fast bowler, the latest player to fly home owing to a foot injury. As expected, Dale Steyn has been called up as his replacement.
Nel is the latest in a series of injuries continuing to wreak havoc in the South African ranks, with x-rays confirming a stress reaction in his left foot. He is expected to be out for three to four weeks.
Speaking to News24.com, Nel said he probably picked up the injury because of the hard pitches in Australia as well as conditions at the training facilities, where the pitches were much harder than those in South Africa. "The constant pressure when you slam your foot into the ground when you bowl, must have done the damage," he said. Nel was South Africa's top bowler in the Test series with 14 wickets.
"The x-ray was negative [for a fracture], but the bone scan revealed a severe stress reaction in the second metatarsal of his left foot," explained South Africa's physiotherapist, Shane Jabaar. "This was in keeping with the focal pain that Andre was experiencing in his foot with all weight bearing activities."
Steyn will first play for the Titans in Friday's Standard Bank Cup domestic one-day final before flying out to link up with South Africa. The convenor of selectors, Haroon Lorgat, said: "We always had him in our sights as a future strike bowler and the current spate of injuries may well give him another opportunity to compete at international level."
They have also not ruled out flying Makhaya Ntini back to Australia after his knee injury showed encouraging progress. "We will not take any risks with Makhaya," explained Lorgat. "However, we will only decide on Monday after a further medical assessment and fitness test, and hence we have both him and Steyn on standby at this stage."
South Africa have been dogged by injuries during their Australia tour; Ntini, Jaques Kallis and Justin Kemp have all missed matches in the last month. While Kallis was able to recover and take part in two Tests against Australia, a shoulder injury forced Kemp to sit out the last two while Ntini missed the critical third Test at Sydney with a muscle tear in his left knee. Ashwell Prince injured his left hamstring in Monday morning's training session and was replaced by Kallis for the inaugural Twenty20 match against Australia at Brisbane, but reports indicate that he has recovered.
South Africa, to kick off in the VB Series against Australia on Sunday, have been handed a further setback with Nel's injury. Graeme Smith, the South African captain, earlier this week called on newcomers Garnett Kruger and Monde Zondeki to show what they can do in the international arena. With Nel out, it seems the time to do so has arrived, albeit in unfortunate circumstances.