South Africa's Test captain Faf du Plessis is in doubt for the inaugural four-day Boxing Day day-night Test against Zimbabwe, as Cricket South Africa opt for a cautious approach to managing his return from injury.
Du Plessis has not played any cricket since late October when he hurt his back during the second ODI against Bangladesh. He was initially prescribed six weeks' rest. However, at the same time, du Plessis had surgery on a problematic shoulder. As a result, he played no part in the recently concluded Ram Slam and was not named in the CSA Invitation XI to play Zimbabwe in a warm-up match scheduled for Wednesday.
Mohammed Moosajee, South Africa's team manager who is also a medical doctor, told ESPNcricinfo last week that du Plessis was "on track", but also emphasised that a late decision will be taken given the workload over the next three months.
"If we reach next week and see that Faf would benefit from another week off, then we will give him that time," Moosajee said. "We are not going to be foolish with his return, because there is a lot of cricket over the next few months."
After the Zimbabwe Test, South Africa host India for three-Tests starting on January 5, six ODIs and three T20s and then have a four-Test home series against Australia in March.
Given that the South African management prefer their players to have some game time after returning from an injury and before representing the national side, it seems a better option for du Plessis to sit out the Test and perhaps even play in the upcoming domestic one-day tournament which starts on Wednesday. South Africa would have a ready-made batting replacement in AB de Villiers, who will play the warm-up match and has declared himself eager for a Test return. They will also likely turn to stand-in captain Dean Elgar, who led the side at Lord's when du Plessis was on paternity leave.
South Africa are only expected to name their Test squad after at least some of the warm-up match has been played and they have monitored the progress of some of their other players. Dale Steyn and Chris Morris are both due to play in the match and could make a return following significant time out of the game. Morne Morkel, who is coming back from a side strain, is not in the squad but recently played a three-day provincial match for Easterns, with positive reasons. He bowled 19.4 overs and took seven wickets for 43 runs.