South Africa captain Faf du Plessis has recovered more quickly than expected from a shoulder injury and will return to action in the third ODI against Zimbabwe. Du Plessis had initially been ruled out of the series, but had continued to travel with the team and has now been passed fit by the Proteas' medical staff.
"I have also been training hard with the guys and I'm feeling excited to be back on the field again," said du Plessis, who had been recovering from his second shoulder injury in less than a year. He underwent surgery on his right shoulder in late 2017, and missed the end of South Africa's tour of Sri Lanka in August this year with a rotator cuff tear in the same shoulder.
The CSA medical team did not want to rush his return, but now that he is fit du Plessis' focus will once again be on leading the team as they build towards the "bigger purpose" of the World Cup. "The guys are motivated," he said. "We are not only looking at what is in front of us now, there is a bigger purpose and push for what lies ahead. At no stage will we be taking it easy. The guys are still trying to impress and are trying to get into that World Cup side."
South Africa's batting has yet to make a good impression so far in this series, and the hosts slipped to 96 for 5 and 101 for 7 on difficult surfaces in the first two games. While du Plessis' return will bolster a side still missing Hashim Amla and Quinton de Kock at the top of the order, that will also mean there is one less spot available to a newcomer and extra pressure to fill the remaining positions.
"The players are motivated and driven to put in performances to put their names into the hat for the World Cup selection," he explained. "As a team, we are still trying to find our feet as to how exactly we are going to go about playing in the World Cup. There are some exceptional players coming through which is great to see."
Du Plessis has been impressed by the bowling against Zimbabwe, making particular mention of Imran Tahir's wicket-taking ability in the middle overs, but he reiterated hopes for a better batting surface in Paarl to give his batsmen an opportunity to fully express themselves. Both the pitches used in Kimberley and Bloemfontein played out of character, with the Mangaung Oval's variable bounce coming in for criticism.
"The bowling has been exceptional once again," du Plessis said. " We have some good wicket-taking options throughout the innings. That is what we are working to get better on, from overs 11 to 50, we want to keep getting wickets, Imran has been exceptional. With the batting, it is too difficult to say where we have been leaving it too short or where we have been good because it has been quite challenging for the batsmen.
"It (batting) has been difficult with the wickets that we have been playing on. One or two guys have been looking good but from a batting-unit point of view it has been tough for the guys. I am hoping tomorrow will be a lot different. It looks like a good wicket. That is what you want to see, you want big runs on the board and games going on a bit longer."
Liam Brickhill is a freelance journalist based in Cape Town