Vernon Philander. Picture: REUTERS/DINUKA LIYANAWATTE
Vernon Philander. Picture: REUTERS/DINUKA LIYANAWATTE

The Proteas are sweating over the fitness of star seamer Vernon Philander ahead of the must-win second Test against Sri Lanka starting at St George’s Park in Port Elizabeth on Thursday.

Philander, who injured a hamstring in the one-wicket loss in the opening Test at Kingsmead, was only able to bowl eight second-innings overs and will need to undergo a fitness test later in the week to establish his readiness.

Wiaan Mulder and Theunis de Bruyn have returned to the squad following their Momentum One-Day Cup duties for their respective franchises at the weekend. Mulder will serve as cover for Philander.

The make-up of the team is bound to come under review for the second Test and it will be interesting to see which way team management go. If they are looking to bulk up the batting, allrounder Mulder could even play if Philander were declared fit. This will depend on whether SA pick spinner Keshav Maharaj. But SA have picked a spinner in the starting line-up more often than not in the recent past at St George’s Park.

The top order was a problem for SA in Durban and they will need to stand up and be counted if the home team is to save the series.

Sri Lanka will be cock-a-hoop with their performance in Durban, led by a brave, unbeaten 153 by Kusal Perera.

They will do well to come hard at the Proteas instead of resting on their 1-0 lead. Any sort of complacency is bound to be pounced upon by the South Africans.

At 1-0 down in a two-match Test series, SA will be banking on their recent form in Port Elizabeth to spare them blushes.

Having slipped to a one-wicket defeat in the first Test, which ended inside four days in Durban on Saturday, the Proteas know that anything less than victory will result in a rare home series defeat. A loss would also hand the Sri Lankans their first Test series win in SA.

It would be an embarrassing outcome for captain Faf du Plessis’ team especially after the tourists were well-beaten by Australia and New Zealand before arriving in SA.

But in the hosts’ favour is the fact that St George’s Park has become something of a fortress for them. SA did endure a poor run from 2001 until 2007, losing three of the four Tests they played in Port Elizabeth and drawing the other.

SA did not stage another Test until 2013 but since then they have been unbeaten, winning five and drawing only one. Their most recent triumph came against the Australians in March 2018, a six-wicket win that had a fair share of controversy and will be remembered for an influx of Sonny Bill Williams lookalikes.

A pumped-up Kagiso Rabada took 11 wickets in the match and AB de Villiers’ breathtaking first-innings hundred was probably the difference between the two teams.

Sri Lanka will train at St George’s from 9.30am on Tuesday and SA from 2.30pm until 5pm.

Proteas Test squad

Faf du Plessis (capt), Hashim Amla (Cobras), Temba Bavuma (Lions), Theunis de Bruyn (Titans), Quinton de Kock (Titans), Dean Elgar (Titans), Zubayr Hamza (Cobras), Keshav Maharaj (Dolphins), Aiden Markram (Titans), Wiaan Mulder (Lions), Duanne Olivier (Knights), Vernon Philander (Cobras), Kagiso Rabada (Lions), Dale Steyn (Titans)