South Africa is at risk of embarking on its upcoming Test tour to Australia without their star batsman AB de Villiers as the Proteas’ ODI skipper wages a battle to overcome a serious elbow injury.
The 32-year-old, who made his debut for South Africa in 2004, faces a crucial fitness test next Tuesday when a decision will be made on whether the injury to his left elbow can be managed through "rest, physiotherapy and aggressive rehabilitation", or if it requires surgery.
If surgery is deemed the only option to try and overcome the impingement syndrome injury that forced de Villiers out of last month’s two-match Test series against New Zealand, he will be sidelined for six to eight weeks while recovering.
Which would rule him out of the three-Test series in Australia that begins at the WACA Ground in Perth on November 3, as well as the upcoming five-match ODI campaign against Australia in South Africa that gets underway next week.
The prospect of de Villiers, currently the world’s top-ranked ODI batsman and equal sixth (with Australia’s Adam Voges) in the Test format, would not only represent a major blow to the Proteas’ hopes in the Test matches to be played at Perth, Hobart and Adelaide.
It would also be a significant setback for Australian crowds robbed of the chance of seeing de Villiers who, with 106 Tests and almost 300 limited-overs internationals to his name, would be a doubtful starter for South Africa’s subsequent Test visit to Australia in four years’ time.
He has already been ruled out of South Africa’s one-off ODI against Ireland at Benoni next Sunday, and the result of the fitness test he undertakes at Proteas’ training in Johannesburg next Tuesday will determine his involvement in the five-match ODI series against Australia that begins at Centurion the following Friday.
And his availability for the Test matches that immediately follow.
"About six weeks ago he (de Villiers) was diagnosed with a left elbow injury," South Africa team manager Dr Mohammed Moosajee told a media conference prior to the Proteas’ training session at Wanderers Stadium in Johannesburg today.
"At the time, the recommendation was specifically to have a period of rest, physiotherapy and aggressive rehabilitation.
"He has subsequently seen an elbow specialist, the area was infiltrated with cortisone and he has what we commonly refer to as an impingement syndrome,
"So when he plays certain cricket shots what normally happens is he gets excruciating pain in the left elbow.
"Sometimes, this does settle with the conservative approach of rest, rehab and the cortisone infiltration, but unfortunately, in AB’s case it hasn’t been so and with that in mind we’ve given him an extended period of rest which is another week.
"We will re-assess on Tuesday when … a call will be made.
"Obviously he needs to pass a fitness test, that elbow needs to stand up to the rigours of international cricket.
"If, at the time, he does not come through a fitness test then a date for surgery will be set and if he does go for surgery then you are looking at a period of six to eight weeks rest.
"If he has surgery, then he’ll be out of the Test series (in Australia)."
Dr Moosajee said the injury which has afflicted former South Africa greats Jacques Kallis and Graeme Smith as well as India’s batting legend Sachin Tendulkar during their careers, can be caused by a combination of overload (particular strokes that place stress on the affected area) and overuse (playing too much cricket).
And while de Villiers undertakes a heavier playing schedule than many of his international peers – he continues to play all three formats for South Africa as well as franchise T20 competitions in India and the Caribbean – Dr Moosajee also pointed out he has been involved in international cricket for more than a decade.
"The cricket calendar, unfortunately, has become more extended than it used to be," he said.
"The fact that there has been some other tournaments like the IPL has added to the load, but I think we need to understand that having played more than 10 years of international cricket, there are going to be challenges where you’re going to have some form of injuries.
"And unfortunately AB’s just having that left elbow niggle that he hasn’t been able to shake off for the time being."
Proteas coach Russell Domingo, who recently sounded a public warning about the volume of cricket some of his senior players were undertaking and the potential detriment it posed, took a philosophical view of the news regarding his key batsman.
"It’s not ideal, but what can you do," Domingo said today in confirming that Faf du Plessis – who led South Africa in the recent Test series against New Zealand - will captain the Proteas’ ODI line-up against Ireland in de Villiers’ absence.
"It’s part of the game, we’ll assess him next week and hopefully he passes.
"If he doesn’t, he doesn’t.
"We’ve just got to move on, it’s difficult to replace a player of AB's ability but it’s a great opportunity for somebody to make a play and do something massive for the team.
"There’s no use moaning about it, it is what it is."