England v South Africa, 1st Investec Test, Lord's, 3rd day July 8, 2017

South Africa discover what could possibly go wrong

Kagiso Rabada's suspension and Vernon Philander's hand injury add extra concerns to a South Africa camp that has suffered its fair share of ill fortune
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Bavuma channelling Perth performance for inspiration

The warning signs came as early as January when South Africa found out that AB de Villiers had ruled himself out of the four-Test series against England. Having spent time recovering from elbow surgery and contemplating his workload, de Villiers decided he would not be ready in time. For South Africa, at that time, it didn't seem that bad.

De Villiers had not played in the last three series against New Zealand, Australia and Sri Lanka, and South Africa had won all of them. In fact, there didn't seem to be room for de Villiers in a line-up in which everyone had had at least one innings of substance across those matches. What could possibly go wrong from there?

Five months later in May, Dale Steyn followed suit albeit for different reasons. Steyn was still undergoing rehabilitation on a broken bone in his shoulder and had not bowled since sustaining the injury in November 2016. Though he was running and hiking, he knew his bowling fitness would not be back in time for the Tests. For South Africa at that time, it didn't seem that bad.

Steyn hadn't played for most of the Australia series and all of the Sri Lanka series. And, even though Kyle Abbott had Kolpak'd, between Kagiso Rabada, Morne Morkel, Vernon Philander, Duanne Olivier and Chris Morris, South Africa seemed to have enough in the tank. What could possibly go wrong from there?

This is what went wrong:

© Getty Images

Captain Absent

Faf du Plessis' first child was due to arrive in the first week of July so he always knew there was a chance he would miss the Lord's Test. But when his daughter was born a week before the series opener, it began to look as though the timing would be on du Plessis' side. Unfortunately, his wife Imari had a difficult birth and, though both her and the baby are healthy and safe, du Plessis needed to stay home a little longer. He was unable to make it to back in time for Lord's but should rejoin the camp ahead of Friday's second Test at Trent Bridge.

South Africa's contingency plan was that their senior opening batsman, Dean Elgar, would lead, Temba Bavuma would move into du Plessis' No.5 spot, and reserve batsman Theunis de Bruyn would be brought into the line-up. For the most part, that worked. Though Elgar failed to call for a review that would have seen Stuart Broad dismissed for 4 in the first innings, he scored a gutsy half-century and the middle-order mostly came good. They could not, however, make up for three of the top four failing, or the emulate Joe Root's 190, the bedrock of England's first innings.

South Africa's injuries and absentees are stacking up © Getty Images

Rude Rabada

Kagiso Rabada's temper showed itself in January when he was involved in a physical altercation with Niroshan Dickwella in an ODI. Rabada shoved the Sri Lankan and earned himself three demerit points. He will have known that one more would result in a suspension.

But Rabada wasn't thinking of that when he saw the back of Ben Stokes in the third session of the first day. Rabada had been unsuccessful in the morning and afternoon, and England were piling on the runs. So, when Stokes nicked off, Rabada gave him a send-off, albeit not a very creative one. "F*** off," said Rabada and the stump mic picked it up.

Rabada was called to a hearing and admitted his guilt, but the decision has been met with fury from former players. Graeme Smith called it "ridiculous", even though he understood that the swearing incident alone was not the reason Rabada had been punished, while Kevin Pietersen said the ICC was robbing the game of its stars.

And robbing it of a narrative, because there is some history to this. The last time South Africa played England in a Test series, in the 2015-16 home summer, Stokes had some choice words for Temba Bavuma. "You are absolute shit," Stokes said to Bavuma early on in his innings at Newlands. Bavuma went on to score his maiden Test hundred and Rabada, who plays for the same franchise as Bavuma at the Lions, took it on himself to defend his team-mate by delivering bouncer after bouncer to Stokes later in the series. The pair will have to wait until The Oval to resume their rivalry.

Vernon Philander took a painful blow on the hand © Getty Images

Fears over Philander

The last thing South Africa needed was another injury to the pace attack. For a short while, it appeared Vernon Philander may have been the latest to be indisposed after he was unable to bowl at the start of the England second innings because of a blow sustained while batting. Philander was struck on the right hand by a short ball from James Anderson when he had yet to score although he still managed to compile an aggressive 52, which suggested the injury was not too bad.

Though Philander regularly wrung his hand out in pain, he did not appear to have much trouble holding the bat or finding the boundary, which he did seven times. Among his shots was a hoick into the leg-side that would have required a heavy bottom hand, something he may not have been able to play if there had been severe damage.

Philander was taken for an x-ray immediately after South Africa's innings ended which thankfully showed no fracture but severe swelling. After a little while in the dressing room he returned to the field shortly before the close of the third day and the indications were he would bowl on Sunday - which is just what South Africa needed to hear.

In reserve, they have Morris and Olivier - who have played three Tests between them - and Andile Phehlukwayo, who is uncapped. With an already relatively inexperienced line-up, the thought of a similarly green attack will not inspire much confidence in South Africa's ability to compete in the series. And compete they must, to prevent even more from going wrong.

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Johann on July 9, 2017, 11:09 GMT

    I said before the game Morris should have played. Whether in place of Duminy or De Bruyn doesn't matter. We needed the extra bowler on a batsman friendly wicket. England would not be as far ahead if SA had him. De Kock can bat at 6. Boucher did that for a while and was fine. The issue with batting at no 7 is you run out of partners. Higher than 6 is not fair on him because it will affect his fitness. AB likely suffered for keeping wicket and batting no 5 for several series. Eventually De Kock can give up the gloves if another player is good enough, but for now it allows SA either five bowlers or the extra batsman. I would love to see Pretorius given a chance. He averages 42 in FC cricket. His bowling might not be as good (he averages mid 20s, which is pretty solid), but he will likely keep an end tight while contributing handsomely with the bat. Fundamentally just what Kallis did towards the end of his career (not wanting to compare quality, of course, but just in terms of strategy).

  • Bertus on July 9, 2017, 10:43 GMT

    SA should field Morris and Phelukwayo for Duminy and Rabada in the next match.

  • Hein on July 9, 2017, 10:40 GMT

    I reckon this SA team has got what it takes...The strength, ability and desire is there. What is missing, is strong leadership. Man-Of-Steel Faf is the missing ingredient to the recipe. I ahave a feeling the The Oval match will end in a draw. JPD will show his mettle. Watch the Trent Bridge winner once Captain Far returns....

  • abhina0847638 on July 9, 2017, 9:45 GMT

    @ALLIEEB: He was on the field for a long while, he just hasn't bowled yet.

  • Brokensaint on July 9, 2017, 9:01 GMT

    all those that want to push QDK up the order clearly has never kept wicket in a test match. it's one if the most physically and mentally draining activities in the team. that's why keepers generally don't bat higher than 7 as it gives the keepers time to bat at the least strenuous period of the game. if QDK scores a 100 at 4 or at 7 it's irrelevant. why would you take the world's best no 7 and turn him into a no4???

  • Brokensaint on July 9, 2017, 8:57 GMT

    duminy while you still have some resemblance of a career left just retire and put all if us out of our misery.

  • Brokensaint on July 9, 2017, 8:55 GMT

    quotas has severely weakened the underlying structures of S.A. cricket. those coming through the system now are not being exposed to quality in strength. Duminy would not have lasted as long in any other countrys national team. for years de villiers and co had to carry the burden of other non performers.

  • Ian on July 9, 2017, 8:17 GMT

    @CRICMAN007: That's not what happened. It's explained above that the only reason this suspension has been invoked is on a rule that runs like penalty points on a driving licence. So this suspension is not about who is allowed to be rude to whom, it's about the player's overall recent conduct. Stokes currently has two points against his name and will likewise be suspended if he reaches the limit. BUT (here comes the bit where we're singing from the same song sheet!) the trouble here is that the ICC's dogmatic application of the rules has robbed the series of a star, who is fit to play, and in doing so they've handicapped the other South African players as well. I know it's a team sport, but this is ridiculous. It's left the series artificially imbalanced. We might as well decide the identity of the best side with dice, or a pack of cards! Rabada's only "crime" here was to get caught, and I don't think Stokes is weeping into his morning coffee about the insult either.

  • Alistair on July 9, 2017, 6:39 GMT

    QDK is the second best batsman in the SA side playing at Lord's. Get off the bandwagon and forget the hype. There's no problem with moving him up the order - it makes complete sense but don't assume that will automatically translate to him piling on winning runs. This is a test side and strike rate isn't everything. He will be exposed to fresher bowlers and the stats may drop off... All that said, yes, move him up a place or two and see how it goes - it makes sense to give him more time.

  • vinod on July 9, 2017, 6:18 GMT

    firdose please don't pretend things. phill was out for long time. Also SA have best attack even without steyn your batsman have to learn techniques otherwise this is going to be the future....

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