All hold breath for Philander's health
South Africa's hopes in fourth Test at Old Trafford's lie in the ailing bowler
South Africa's fate, not for the first time in their Test series in England, is in the hands of Vernon Philander in the fourth Test at Old Trafford starting today.
In the first Test at Lord's, it was Philander's ankle, which was in recovery from being twisted. And his right hand, which was bruised by a delivery from James Anderson.
South Africa lost that match by 211 runs.
Nothing befell Philander before or during the second Test at Trent Bridge, and South Africa won by 340 runs.
In the third Test at The Oval, Philander fell ill with a stomach bug on the first morning.
South Africa went down by 239 runs.
By the look of Philander at a press conference at Old Trafford on Wednesday, he had been drained of several kilograms but seemed good to go on Friday.
So, Faf du Plessis, what is it going to be like to have a fit and firing Philander standing at the top of his run, new ball in hand?
"Vernon will go through a fitness test; he has a tight back," Du Plessis said yesterday.
Team management said a decision on his inclusion would not be made before today.
"Vernon at 100% fit means we can look at playing three seamers and seven batsmen," Du Plessis said. "Vernon at 90% doesn't mean you can play three seamers because you don't want to be in a position in which you have a seamer break down and then you only have two.
"The one occasion where we managed to pull a miracle off was in Australia with two seamers."
That was in Perth in November, when Dale Steyn broke his shoulder during Australia's first innings, leaving Kagiso Rabada and Philander to pick up the slack and Keshav Maharaj and JP Duminy - and even Stephen Cook and Temba Bavuma - to do the rest.
Now, South Africa have their backs to the wall against a team who know they don't have to win the match to claim the series.
The weather is not helping in that regard. It has been raining for days in Manchester.
"If [Philander] is not 100% fit it's important to look at having four seamers," Du Plessis said. That might mean, if Philander is fit enough to be picked, South Africa will be unchanged to preserve their seam attack of him, Morné Morkel, Rabada and Chris Morris.
If Philander is out, Duanne Olivier could get the chance to atone for his ineffectual performance at Trent Bridge.
There is, then, uncertainty in the visitors' dressing room.
And not only among the players: less than a week away from the end of his current contract, Russell Domingo does not know whether he will have a job after this match.
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