CAPE TOWN, SOUTH AFRICA - DECEMBER 20, Vernon Philander during day 1 of the Sunfoil Series match between Nashua Mobile Cape Cobras and Nahua Titans at Sahara Park Newlands on December 20, 2012 in Cape Town, South Africa Photo by Carl Fourie/ Gallo Images

Cape Town – South Africa’s Cricketer of the Year Vernon Philander faces a race against time to be fit for the New Year’s Test against New Zealand after suffering a hamstring strain on Thursday.

Philander, playing for the Cape Cobras at Newlands in a Sunfoil Series match against the Titans, bowled five overs before being forced to leave the field in severe discomfort. He had bowled with good energy, hitting his lengths from the outset and was rewarded with the wicket of Titans No 3 Pieter Malan during this period.

“Vernon has a grade one strain in his left hamstring,” Cobras and former Proteas physiotherapist Shane Jabaar said on Thursday at Newlands. “It’s a grade one strain and because he had immediate treatment, it could take about seven or 10 days to heal.

“He won’t be able to bowl for the rest of this match and will bat only if it’s really necessary. He won’t be taking singles or anything like that, stand and deliver stuff only.”

The Proteas are set to gather in Cape Town on December 28 in the build-up to the first Test on January 2 at Newlands.

“We have been in contact with Cricket South Africa. We know he is a national player, so we will be careful with him. The same as we would be with any of our players. It’s a common feeling about how we want to go about it, to protect him as much as possible,” Jabaar added.

Philander’s absence from the Test side would be a huge blow to the Proteas. The Cobras opening bowler was a standout performer on the tour to New Zealand at the beginning of the year. He terrorised the Black Caps throughout the three-match series, claiming 21 wickets at an average of 15.61.

This included a 10-wicket haul in the second Test at Hamilton, which propelled the Proteas to a nine-wicket victory at Seddon Park. It also pushed Philander into the history books, with the Ravensmead-bred seamer second on the all-time list of the fastest to 50 Test wickets.

It is not the first time though that Philander has had fitness problems over the past 12 months. The 28-year-old missed the Boxing Day second Test against Sri Lanka last year when he was ruled out with a “mild strain to the medial collateral ligament of his left knee.” His replacement, rookie Marchant de Lange, claimed 7/81 on his Test debut, but the Proteas still suffered an embarrassing 208-run defeat.

South Africa were forced into a late reshuffle on the morning of the recent second Test against Australia too in Adelaide. Philander, the World’s No 2-ranked bowler, withdrew on the morning of the game with a back complaint after waking up with a stiff lower back and was replaced by his Cobras teammate Rory Kleinveldt, who had made an inauspicious Test debut the previous week in Brisbane.

De Lange is not available to the Proteas due to him still undergoing rehabilitation for a long-term stress fracture which ruled him out of both the England and Australia tours. Kleinveldt is the official back-up fast-medium bowler in the Test squad and will likely again be Philander’s replacement should he not recover in time.

Meanwhile, New Zealand also lost fast bowler Tim Southee for the Test series on Thursday. Southee injured a thumb in a domestic game. – Cape Times