AB de Villiers has been ruled out of cricket for between four and six weeks with a hand injury. He will miss South Africa's T20 and ODI series against Australia, of which the former was due to be his first as captain. De Villiers broke the third finger on his left hand during fielding practice with the Royal Challengers Bangalore at the Champions League T20 on Wednesday.
"He saw a hand surgeon this morning and will undergo an operation tomorrow [Friday] where they will insert a pin or a plate to stabilise the finger," Mohammad Moosajee, team manager told ESPNCricinfo.
De Villiers' injury sets South Africa's plans of starting a new era, with Gary Kirsten as head coach and de Villiers as captain in limited-overs formats, back. Instead, they will have put contingency plans in place as their international season starts in unexpected fashion.
The national selectors met at the Wanderers Stadium, where one of season-opening first-class fixtures was taking place, to finalise the T20 and ODI squads. Top of the agenda was the issue of who will lead the team against Australia. "We debated that at length and we will release the information around the captaincy at the same time as we release the squads, which will be early next week," said convenor of selectors Andrew Hudson.
Hashim Amla was named the vice-captain in June and, according to Moosajee, "all things equal" should captain the side. But, all things are not equal, because Amla has never captained the national team, although he did lead his franchise, the Dolphins in the 2004-5 season. His inexperience with the armband means that South Africa could return to an old hand. Graeme Smith, who stepped down as T20 captain last August and ODI captain after the World Cup or Johan Botha, who was stripped of the T20 captaincy in June, could return to the role as a stop gap.
The captaincy is not the only issue the selectors had to discuss. "AB's injury does not only affect the captaincy, its also the wicketkeeper and a top order batsman," Hudson said.
The wicketkeeper position has been a hotly debated one in South African cricket circles, with no clear successor having been identified for Mark Boucher, with some of the opinion that there is no need to look for a replacement yet. Although Boucher is 34 years old, he has made clear his desire to make a comeback to the ODI side after missing out on selection for the World Cup.
Boucher would be the safe option, but de Villiers' injury could pave the way for South Africa to start experimenting with who they would like to don the keeping gloves. Heino Kuhn, who has played three T20s for South Africa - the last was against Zimbabwe in Kimberley almost a year ago - is the favourite.
Morne van Wyk, who was part of South Africa's World Cup squad, and could bat in the top four is another option. Thami Tsolekile may come into the fray, although he has never played a limited-overs match for South Africa. Davy Jacobs may have finally got his chance, but sustained a hip injury during training with the Mumbai Indians at the Champions League and will likely be unavailable.
"The Champions League hasn't been kind to us," Hudson said. "Last year we lost Dale Steyn, Jacques Kallis and Albie Morkel and we can only hope we don't suffer more." Steyn fell on his head after backpedalling to take a catch while Kallis sustained a back injury and Morkel strained his side, which caused the trio to miss out on matches against Zimbabwe.
With a more important series, against Australia, coming this year, Hudson hoped that the casualties will not mount, with 10 days remaining in the Champions League, but feared they may have to brace for more. "What we are realising is that T20 is hard on players, it's intense," Hudson said. "We're going to have accept that we will get injuries."