Vernon Philander is battling with a back problem. Photo: John Cowpland/

CAPE TOWN – Vernon Philander’s fitness is under the spotlight again.

After recently coming in for severe criticism from his former Proteas captain Graeme Smith, and his current skipper Faf du Plessis also challenging Philander – urging him to focus on his fitness – there are once again concerns.

It was initially understood that all the Proteas would be available for the first round of Sunfoil Series fixtures, starting on Tuesday, in preparation for the upcoming series against Bangladesh.

The Proteas have not had any cricket for the past month since the conclusion of the England tour, with Philander being on an even longer break due to not playing the fourth and final Test due to a back problem.

The 32-year-old seamer had also struggled with a comeback from an ankle injury and a viral ailment in the first and third Tests in England respectively.

He was actually hospitalised overnight and placed on a drip during the third Test at Old Trafford. 

All those problems were believed to be in the past, though, with the Cobras releasing a statement last week that Philander could feature on their pre-season trip to Oudtshoorn – albeit only as a batsman, pending discussions with the national team management.

Philander, though, did not play in any of the two two-day warm-up matches against the Warriors and will now also not feature against the Knights at the Mangaung Oval next week.

“Vern is not available for our first game in Bloemfontein,” Cobras coach Ashwell Prince confirmed to Independent Media on Thursday.

“It is frustrating because we are not in control of the situation when it comes to national players. We adhere to Cricket South Africa’s guidelines, and we have been informed that a call will only be made on the 25th (September).”

This situation places Philander in serious doubt to feature in new Proteas coach Ottis Gibson’s first match in charge of the national team, which is the first Test against Bangladesh starting on September 28 in Potchefstroom.

Gibson will in all likelihood be without Dale Steyn too at Senwes Park, after the fast bowler confirmed his unavailability on Thursday.

Ottis Gibson is set to arrive in South Africa next week in time for the opening round of the Sunfoil Series. Photo:

Steyn was optimistic earlier this month of a return to competitive cricket after a 12-month layoff due to a shoulder injury, but has now decided that his body is not yet ready to return to the rigours of first-class cricket. 

“I’ve decided not to play right now. I’m bowling fine, but I haven’t hit the full workload I’d need to handle four-day cricket or a Test, so I decided it was best not to play,” Steyn told ESPNcricinfo.

“Playing the four-day game would have given me a chance for selection in the Tests, but I don’t want to put myself or the team in a position where I pull up again. Some shorter cricket might be the better answer for a reintroduction.”

Gibson is set to arrive in the country on Monday, and will at least be able to see Temba Bavuma, Wayne Parnell and Hashim Amla, who has been playing T20 cricket for the World XI in Pakistan, in action for the Cobras next week.

National convenor of selectors Linda Zondi is expected to announce the squad for the Test series against Bangladesh after the completion of the first round of Sunfoil Series fixtures next week.


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