Newlands is Vernon Philander's favourite ground where he’s produced some of his best performances for the Proteas. Photo: Chris Ricco/BackpagePix

JOHANNESBURG – “It’s a nice problem to have,” said Faf du Plessis about the selection conundrum that awaits South Africa ahead of the second Test against Pakistan at Newlands.

That problem? What to do about Duanne Olivier and Vernon Philander. Olivier is in red hot form this season, whatever the colour of the ball. Philander is well Philander, and Newlands is his favourite ground where he’s produced some of his best performances for the Proteas. 

He missed the first Test at Centurion as he completed rehab for a hairline fracture of his right thumb, an injury he picked up in the Mzansi Super League. He is expected to be fit to start the New Year’s Test on Thursday.

Olivier took full advantage of the opportunity granted him to him by Philander’s absence to pick 11/96 in the first Test earning him the Man of the Match award, for a wonderfully aggressive performance. 

But it leaves Du Plessis and the national selectors with a problem for the second Test. For now, it’s easy to say it’s one of those pleasant problems to have, but as the second Test gets closer, it’s one that will be harder to solve. “It’s like if a batter scores two hundreds, it’s difficult to leave him out. It would be very, very hard to leave him out of the team at Newlands,” Du Plessis said about Olivier. 

A short while later, asked about Philander, the South African captain offered the following: “At Newlands, Vernon picks himself, his record there is unbelievable, so he will definitely come back into the team.”

“Then the selection headache starts,” he added. 

Philander has claimed 49 wickets in nine Tests at his beloved home ground, six of those wickets came in the second innings of the last season’s New Year’s Test against the Indians. The most memorable of those wickets, Virat Kohli’s which was achieved through patience and metronomic precision by Philander. 

Olivier’s maintained his excellent form throughout the season, across different formats - he topped the wicket-taking table in the Mzansi Super League with 20 - and he’s picked up 27 wickets for the Knights in the Four-Day franchise competition. 

At SuperSport Park he bowled an aggressive and accurate short length to the Pakistani batsmen, which left them with more than just physical bruises. 

“There’s a mental aspect when it comes to Test cricket. There’s a bit of fear in the batsmen’s eyes, and there are very good players in their team and you could almost sense that he made it uncomfortable for them, it’s something we want to make sure we keep having in our armoury,” said Du Plessis.

There are various options available to the South Africans if they want to accommodate both Philander and Olivier; one would be to drop left-arm spinner Keshav Maharaj and play an all seam attack, although history at Newlands is against leaving out the frontline spinner. Du Plessis also mentioned dropping a batsman, but given South Africa’s shaky batting of late that would be an extreme risk. 

The pitch, the last one to be prepared by Evan Flint at Newlands, will be assessed first. “But it’s tough to leave out Duanne, after getting 11 wickets and leaving mental scars on the opposition...it’s a nice problem to have,” Du Plessis said one final time.

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