Chittagong: It may not quite be on the same scale as when David Beckham’s broken metatarsal assumed national importance in Britain ahead of the 2002 Soccer World Cup, but there is no doubt that South Africa’s backroom staff are doing their utmost to get Proteas captain Faf du Plessis’s World T20 underway today.
Du Plessis failed a late fitness test on his injured hamstring on Saturday morning, which ruled him out of the tense five-run defeat to Sri Lanka here on Saturday, and there is a great belief around the team camp that the skipper’s calmness under pressure could have been the difference during those frenetic closing overs.
The captain has improved to “90%” ahead of today’s crucial Group 1 tie against New Zealand, and that is solely due to the work done behind the scenes with Proteas physiotherapist Brendon Jackson.
The Comrades veteran has spent hours massaging the injured muscle daily and was seen yesterday doing the hard yards with Du Plessis at training on the outskirts of the Zahur Ahmed Chowdhury Stadium. Jackson, along with Paddy Upton and young Quinton de Kock, urged Du Plessis on during countless laps around the training field in temperatures over 31 degrees and extreme humidity levels.
But hamstrings are muscles that need to endure intense bursts of speed, like a quick single and during fielding, so off Jackson went with Du Plessis for more short sprints to test the progress they were making.
“He is aware of it (the injury). It is like having a tired sore muscle, so he is running with that, which is fine. Generally what we as physios have changed to nowadays is that we have moved away from being cautious to being much more aggressive in our rehab. With a muscle we push it to the limit,” Jackson explained.
“We are hoping by tomorrow he is close to 100 percent, so we will put him though a fitness test tomorrow proper, to make sure that the hamstring can stand up to it. The minute he shows any sign of pulling up, we will withdraw him because if that hamstring goes again, it will be the end of the tournament for him,” he added.
South Africa could certainly do without these fitness issues at this crucial juncture of the tournament. A second consecutive defeat, especially with New Zealand already gaining two log points due to their controversial Duckworth-Lewis victory in the thunder, lightning and rain over England on the weekend, would leave the Proteas in a precarious position.
It would not necessarily be South Africa’s boarding call just yet, but it would leave them dependent on the other results in the group while maintaining a faultless record in their remaining games.
There are a couple of team changes being pondered too, with one obvious change set to be made to the starting line-up should Du Plessis overcome his hamstring troubles. Farhaan Behardien would drop out to accommodate the skipper’s return, although South Africa are also searching for a possible batting option lower down the order.
The length of the tail was exposed on Saturday when Dale Steyn walked in at No 8 and failed to connect two vital deliveries in the penultimate over. Wayne Parnell’s all-round talents are being considered for today’s clash, especially after he struck the ball sweetly at training yesterday.
The left-hander cleared the fence regularly, while also nearly decapitating the Bangladeshi net bowlers with powerful strikes down the ground.
Coach Russell Domingo will have to make the tough decision on how best to include Parnell among his three strike-bowlers, with one of Steyn, Morné Morkel or Lonwabo Tsotsobe set to lose out.
After Saturday’s defeat, there is no time for sentiment though, as a dangerous Black Caps outfit led by the street-wise Brendon McCullum lay in wait.