SA cricket coach Gary Kirsten. Photo: AP

Durban - Faf du Plessis has been forced to withdraw from the Proteas squad for the remainder of the one-day series against Pakistan. Du Plessis, who has an inflamed lower back, has been replaced in the squad by young tyro Quinton de Kock for Thursday’s match in Durban and Sunday’s final game in Benoni.

Du Plessis will miss the first four weeks of the Indian Premier League, but should play in the later stages of the competition to prepare for the Champions Trophy in England in June.

“Faf has been troubled by low back pain over the past while,” said Proteas team manager Mohammed Moosajee. “He was recently diagnosed with bony inflammation in the lumbar spine and a six-week rest period has been advised.”

The convenor of the national selectors, Andrew Hudson, said he was naturally disappointed over losing a key middle-order batsman at such an important time in the series.

“As disappointing as Faf’s injury is, it must be seen as an opportunity for Quinton. He made a good start to his international career during the previous series against New Zealand and this is a chance for him to build on that.”

Despite Hudson’s comment, home-town batsman David Miller will surely come into consideration as Du Plessis’s replacement for tomorrow’s ODI. Miller knows the conditions well and is desperate to impress. The aggressive left-hander has done well in T20 internationals this season, but has yet to make his mark in ODIs, scoring 14 and 15 in the series loss to New Zealand.

Despite the debit of losing Du Plessis, the Proteas were in credit yesterday with the news that Morné Morkel has been pronounced fit to play, signalling a return to international duty after a month spent recovering from a hamstring injury picked up in the second Test in Cape Town.

Morkel worked alone, bowling four overs on Monday, but had a much longer workout yesterday and was the last of the bowlers to finish his work in the late afternoon.

“It was a long, hard day, but that’s good,” a satisfied Morkel said as he walked off the field. “I feel really good and I didn’t feel a thing in my leg.”

Said Moosajee: “We’ve been fairly conservative with Morné, we could probably have played him earlier in the series, but you have to be very careful with hamstring injuries and we wanted to be sure.”

Meanwhile, left-arm spinner Robin Peterson, having described the Wanderers as “the toughest place to bowl in South Africa” after his team’s 34-run win in Sunday’s run-fest, said it would be interesting to see just what conditions would prevail in Durban.

“The Kingsmead pitch has got slower in recent years, and there is sometimes turn available as well. If that’s the case this time, it will bring Pakistan into the game. I think that whoever assesses the conditions quicker is going to have an advantage on the day. It’ll be a good challenge for us and if we can stop Pakistan in their tracks, it’ll give us a lot of confidence going forward.”

It was made quite clear on Tuesday afternoon that the South African brainstrust of Moosajee and coach Gary Kirsten were concerned about a dry-looking pitch, with some cracks that looked a little bare at the Umgeni End. At one stage, Moosajee and the chief executive of the KZN Cricket Union, Jesse Chellan, were engaged in an animated conversation on the square while South Africa were practising.

The message, clearly, is that the South Africans don’t want to encourage Pakistan’s greatest strength - spinners Saeed Ajmal, Mohammad Hafeez and Shahid Afridi - by having to play on a pitch that takes turn on Thursday.

However, Chellan said that he was confident the match would take place on an excellent surface for ODI cricket.

Cape Times