Vernon Philander. Picture: REUTERS
Vernon Philander. Picture: REUTERS

Manchester — SA’s fate‚ not for the first time in their England Test series, is in Vernon Philander’s hands in the fourth Test on Friday.

The visitors’ destiny has not only been in his hands. In the first Test, at Lord’s, it was in Philander’s ankle — which was in recovery from being twisted by stepping awkwardly onto a boundary rope while playing for Sussex. And in his right hand‚ which was bruised by a delivery from James Anderson. SA lost that match by 211 runs.

Nothing befell Philander before or during the second Test, at Trent Bridge‚ and SA won by 340 runs.

In the third Test, at The Oval‚ Philander fell ill with a stomach virus on the first morning. SA went down by 239 runs.

By the look of Philander at a media conference at Old Trafford on Wednesday‚ he had been drained of several kilograms but seemed good to go.

So‚ Faf du Plessis‚ what will it 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 [on Thursday]; he has a tight back‚" Du Plessis said gloomily on Thursday‚ adding: "He should be okay."

The team management said a decision on his inclusion would not be made before Friday morning‚ after the medics had "seen how he wakes up".

What might all that mean for SA as they look to secure a share of the series?

"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 where you have a seamer [breaking] down and then you only have two‚ because that is basically the Test match over right there.

"The one occasion where we managed to pull a miracle off was in Australia with two seamers‚ but normally you can’t win a Test match with two bowlers."

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.

Rabada took 5/92 and everyone else except Cook claimed a wicket each as SA surged to victory by 177 runs.

But that was in the first match of a series against opponents who talked a better game than they played.

Now‚ SA have their backs to the wall against a team who know they do not 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 and is not predicted to abate until lunchtime on Friday at the earliest.

Pools of water dotted the outfield on Thursday afternoon‚ and the ground staff were using heat lamps, which were apparently donated by police who seized them in raids on cannabis growers, to try to improve the soggiest patches.

Scratch‚ then‚ the question about a fit Philander armed with the new ball.

"If he is not 100% fit it is important to look at having four seamers‚" Du Plessis said.

That eventuality might mean‚ if Philander is fit enough to be picked‚ SA 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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