The Proteas’ Cup class of 2023 will be hoping they are not struck down by the same wretched luck that befell their predecessors four years ago.
Former coach Ottis Gibson had put together a battery of fast bowlers ready to be unleashed in the United Kingdom, but before even leaving South African shores, they were without Anrich Nortjé, who suffered a “freak” hand injury in the nets.
Worse was to follow when veteran fast bowler Dale Steyn failed to shrug off a long-standing shoulder injury, and returned from the UK without playing a single game.
All the injury disruptions set in motion arguably the Proteas’ worst showing at a Cup.
Current coach Rob Walter will certainly be keeping his fingers crossed that a similar fate does not await him in India.
The South Africans are due to leave for the sub-continent on Saturday, but are still sweating over the fitness of Nortjé – again – and Sisanda Magala.
The fast-bowling duo have both been named in the 15-player Cup squad, but have only played one one-day international each across the eight white-ball matches against Australia this past month, and have until Friday to prove their fitness.
After a busy winter period – having played in both the Indian Premier League and Major League Cricket in the US – Nortjé was initially rested for the T20 series, while Magala, having returned home from the IPL with a split webbing, could not take to the field in the three T20s due a muscular injury around his knee.
Nortjé returned to the park in the second ODI against the Australians in Bloemfontein, but delivered just five overs before leaving the field.
He was later sent for scans, which revealed a lower back injury that forced the 29-year-old speedster out of the remainder of the fivematch series.
Magala’s situation is equally precarious. He bowled only four overs in his sole appearance in the third ODI in Potchefstroom, and has not been available for selection since.
Both fast bowlers will undergo fitness tests this week to ascertain whether they will be able to board the plane on Saturday.
“We are continually taking stock as to where both of those players are,” Walter said after the Proteas closed out a 3-2 series comeback triumph at the Wanderers.
“The fact that they weren’t playing today with a week to go before we board the plane for the Cup is obviously a cause for concern.
“We would have wanted them out there. There are complications around taking players who are injured into a Cup, because then you have to provide a medical reason to be swapped out.”
Compounding the Proteas’ problems is that the most likely replacement for Nortjé and Magala would be Western Province allrounder Wayne Parnell.
The experienced left-arm seamer, however, also developed a recurrence of a left shoulder injury, which ruled him out of the Australian series, and he is only tentatively returning to bowling at Newlands this week.
Titans seamer Lizaad Williams is on standby and played in the T20s against Australia, but Walter has also made alternate plans in the interim with the selection of previously discarded all-rounder Andile Phehlukwayo in two ODIs.
The 27-year-old certainly boasts plenty of experience – he has played 76 ODIs and 38 T20s – and seemed to rediscover some of his best form in the final match of the series when he clubbed a game-changing 38 not out off only 19 balls at the Wanderers on Sunday.
“Andile is one of a couple of guys who are part of a broader squad, and today he showed us, especially with the bat, what we have seen in terms of his capability,” Walter said.
“That knock, you can look at it, and say it was match-influencing. A total of 270 looks different to a total of 315, and he was a massive role-player in that.
“He took an important wicket with the ball as well. I am very happy that Andile was able to deliver that performance. It’s great that guys can come in and contribute, which is all we are after.”