In a huge blow for South Africa, fast bowler Vernon Philander has been ruled out of the ongoing Test series against India after twisting his left ankle during a warm-up football game in Bangalore. Philander picked up the knock after stepping on Dean Elgar's foot, and an MRI scan later confirmed that he would be out of action for up to eight weeks.
Philander was seen hobbling in visible distress after what AB de Villiers described as a "very freakish accident". He had to hold on to the shoulders of two members of the support staff, who then carried him back all the way to the dressing room. Following the injury, CSA called up Kyle Abbott, who last played a Test in December 2014, to replace Philander in the squad.
"Vernon rolled his left ankle during practice at the stadium in Bengaluru this morning. He was taken to the hospital for an MRI scan which confirmed an ankle ligament tear which will rule him out of the current series against India," Dr. Mohammed Moosajee, South Africa's team manager, said.
"He will return back to Cape Town this weekend to be assessed by one of Cricket South Africa's specialists. At this moment it is still too early to tell but he will be out for a period of at least six to eight weeks."
Moosajee said that the main target was to ensure Philander recovered in time for the home Tests against England, starting December 26.
"The first Test match against England is six weeks away so it will be a tight schedule to get him ready and rehabilitated to make that Test match. Once he has been assessed back home in Cape Town and a proper programme for physio and rehabilitation has been put into place, we will have a clearer understanding."
Philander has had to contend with the notion that his threat is dulled without help from the conditions, but he was South Africa's most successful seamer on a dry and dusty Mohali track. His nagging line outside the offstump, troubled the Indians more than Dale Steyn or Kagiso Rabada's pace. He would have been hoping to demonstrate more of the same under cloudy skies in Bangalore, where he may have been able to extract some movement.
Philander also provided South Africa with batting stability down the order. He has four Test fifties to his name and was even deployed as an opener in Mohali as South Africa looked for an innovative solution for batting last on a slow surface. Although both Rabada and Abbott have ability with the bat, neither is as proven at this level as Philander is.
Still, South Africa's main concern will be how Rabada or Abbott fit into their attack. Of the three quicks, Philander was the container. Neither Rabada nor Abbott fit that mould. Furthermore they are two very different kinds of bowlers - Rabada offers pace and Abbott swing. There is some good news for the visitors, though. Morne Morkel is fit again after a quad strain ruled him out of the Mohali Test.
So South Africa may have to turn to Simon Harmer to do a holding job and field two specialist spinners for the remainder of the series. That will limit them to six specialist batsmen if they also plan on playing three quicks. If South Africa go the same way as India and play just two seamers. they could add a seventh batsman into their line-up and rely on JP Duminy, who has recovered from injury, Dean Elgar and Stiaan van Zyl to provide part-time bowling options.
South Africa will be sweating as well on the fitness of Steyn, whose participation in the Bangalore Test has been in doubt since he sustained a groin strain last week. He underwent a fitness test at the end of Thursday's training session and had also bowled briefly in the nets in Mohali on Monday, but a CSA release said that a decision on his availability will be taken only after a final test on Friday.