South Africa pacer Vernon Philander has been ruled out of the first Test against Pakistan starting on December 26 after sustaining a hairline fracture on his right thumb.Philander underwent rehabilitation for an ankle injury following the tour of Sri Lanka in July, and returned to action in South Africa’s domestic four-day competition before playing for the Durban Heat in the Mzansi Super League. The latest thumb injury leaves South Africa with only three pacers in Dale Steyn, Kagiso Rabada and Duanne Olivier, as Lungi Ngidi has been ruled out until February 2019 with a knee injury.

“I really don’t even want to think about what would happen should there be another injury,” South Africa coach Ottis Gibson said.

“If you look at where we are, Steyn, Rabada and Olivier become very important to us. We just want to manage them as best we can. We’ve seen how Dale’s been going. I don’t want to say we’ve seen a transformation because he’s always been a top player, but he’s back to full fitness and performing like the player of old. KG (Rabada) as always is very important to us.

“We’ve looked at a few bowling options over the past 14 months and we’ve got what we feel now is a very good bowling attack and group,” Gibson said. “You’ve got Steyn, Rabada, Philander, Ngidi and Olivier, who’s been in-and-out, but always in our thinking. That’s the making of a good attack in any form of the game. My job now is to keep them fit and fresh for them to be at their peak at international level.”

Gibson also backed Hashim Amla to return to form. Amla is going through a rough patch, managing just 71 runs in seven innings in the Mzansi Super League. He missed South Africa’s last two series due to injury, and last scored a Test hundred a year ago, against Bangladesh.

“He has been carrying niggles that have not allowed him to do the things that he wanted to do. For him, it is to get back to the nets and work on the things that he needs to work on‚ but he is an experienced player for us. He has had dips in form but he knows what he needs to do,” said Gibson.

“T20 wants you to score off every ball and Hash maybe just wants to have the opportunity to leave a few before he starts to expand.”

South Africa’s top order struggled in their previous Test assignment – the tour of Sri Lanka – but Gibson said it wouldn’t be a factor here as spin won’t be a threat.

“There is no concern with regards to them,” Gibson said about openers Aiden Markram and Dean Elgar. “What happened in Sri Lanka has no relevance here even though Pakistan may choose spinners.

“Aiden scored 1000 runs last year and he is back in familiar home conditions. With regards to Dean, he is an absolute street fighter. He is always close to hitting a double-hundred and that is fantastic.”