Faf du Plessis, South Africa's all-format captain, could miss the team's next assignment - three ODIs and three T20Is against Zimbabwe with the first ODI starting on September 30 - as he recovers from a second shoulder injury in less than a year. Du Plessis, who had surgery on his right shoulder in late 2017, has been ruled out of the rest of the ongoing tour in Sri Lanka with a rotator-cuff tear in the same shoulder and will not rush his return ahead of a busy summer and the 2019 World Cup.
"It's important to get the shoulder as strong as possible," du Plessis said on his arrival back to Cape Town on Friday. "Playing against Zimbabwe would be nice but an extra few weeks (of recovery) would be good. I was under pressure before the India series but I managed to get through it. No disrespect to Zimbabwe but there's a lot cricket still to be played. The long-term goal is the most important thing."
When du Plessis made his comeback from the surgery, which took place when he picked up a back injury against Bangladesh in October last year, he was also forced to give Zimbabwe the cold shoulder in the Boxing Day Test. Officially, a viral infection prevented du Plessis from playing in that match but the man himself has admitted his return was earlier than ideal when he did play, a week later, in the New Year's Test against India.
Du Plessis got through all three Tests unscathed but broke a finger in the first ODI, which sidelined him from the remaining white-ball fixtures. He was fit in time for the four-Test series against Australia and played in the IPL, the two Tests in Sri Lanka and three of the five ODIs before being injured. He has been prescribed a rehabilitation period of up to six weeks but could take more, with the aim to be fully fit for the meat of the home summer and the World Cup.
"Playing against Zimbabwe would be nice but an extra few weeks (of recovery) would be good. No disrespect to Zimbabwe but there's a lot cricket still to be played. The long-term goal is the most important thing." Faf du Plessis
South Africa will only host five Tests in the 2018-19 season - half the number of the previous summer - but 13 ODIs and du Plessis hopes to play a part in most of that despite the lower profile of the fixtures. Zimbabwe will be followed by Pakistan and Sri Lanka, who may not be as anticipated as India and Australia but should still present a challenge.
"Last year was probably my favourite Test cricket year. To win those series back-to-back with fantastic support represented a real high for me," du Plessis said. "This summer, Pakistan shouldn't be underestimated, especially given the seam capabilities they have. They are the subcontinent team with the best seam attack and they've got every chance to be successful. That will be a big challenge. And then ODI cricket will take more of the focus, but I'm excited about that."
Though the World Cup is still 11 months away, the early signs from South Africa in the post AB de Villiers era are good. They won the five-match series in Sri Lanka with two games to spare, giving themselves room to experiment in the final two fixtures as they start to piece together what kind of cricket they want to play at the show-piece tournament. "I'm really excited about the style of ODI cricket we play," du Plessis said. "We place a lot of emphasis on how we want to play, given the vision (Ottis Gibson) Gibbo and I have for winning the World Cup. The guys are playing an exciting, fearless brand of cricket."