Faf du Plessis will miss the four-day, day-night Test against Zimbabwe, which starts on Boxing Day, after his recovery from back and shoulder injuries was delayed by a viral infection. AB de Villiers, who makes his return to Test whites for the first time since January 2016, will captain the side in place of du Plessis.
The South African management is hopeful of having du Plessis fit in time for the first Test against India, which starts from January 5 in Cape Town.
"Faf has been making steady progress from the respective back and shoulder injuries and until last week was on track to make a comeback in this match. He developed a respiratory tract infection which delayed his recovery this week, and subsequently made it difficult for him to make a full recovery in time for the match. He will continue to receive treatment and rehab from our physiotherapist, Craig Govender, and we are hopeful he will recover in time to lead the team for the first Test match against India," Mohammed Moosajee, South Africa's team manager, who is also a medical doctor said.
That de Villiers will step in to captain is interesting given the events of January 2016 when he was appointed stand-in captain for the two Tests against England after Hashim Amla stepped down. He was then given the job on a full-time basis but was never able to assume the role. An injury kept de Villiers out of the series against New Zealand last August, Australia in November and Sri Lanka at the end of last year, before he missed the Test leg of the tours of New Zealand and England due to a self-imposed sabbatical from the longest format. De Villiers was widely expected to retire from the game completely but in August, he recommitted across all formats.
However, in his time away, the South Africa Test team were forced to move on and many, including Vernon Philander, said they had. With de Villiers' return, a selection conundrum, became apparent, especially as de Villiers' most recent replacement, Temba Bavuma, has not only shown great promise but is also the only black African batsman in the squad. The selectors seemingly had to weigh dropping Bavuma, the only batsman not to score a century against Bangladesh, while choosing between de Villiers and du Plessis. But now that decision has been made for them, how they will balance the team for the India series remains to be seen.
South Africa's other selection question is choosing which of their four fit seamers to pick, with the likely toss-up between Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel, to partner Kagiso Rabada and Vernon Philander.
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent