Five Australia players ruled out of first NZ Test
Shane Watson, Ryan Harris, Shaun Marsh, Mitchell Johnson and Pat Cummins will all miss Australia's first Test against New Zealand, leaving the national selectors to fill plenty of gaps ahead of the squad announcement on Saturday.
All five players are carrying injuries and will be unavailable for the national selector John Inverarity and his panel to consider. Watson has a hamstring strain, Marsh a back ailment, Harris a pelvis problem, Johnson an injured foot and Cummins a bruised heel.
"We unfortunately suffered some injuries during the recent Test series against South Africa. With such a short turnaround time between series, five players who were involved in the series will not fully recover in time to play the first Test against New Zealand," Pat Howard, the CA team performance manager, said.
Decisions on the futures of Ricky Ponting and Brad Haddin will be deferred by the injuries, giving the duo a further chance to shore up their spots. Ponting said the volume of injuries reminded him of an ODI tour of India in 2009, when the list of unavailable players touched double figures.
"This is obviously a really testing time for the depth of Australian cricket," Ponting said at the SCG. "A lot of the guys that will be considered [as replacements] have been in and around our squad the last couple of years anyway because we've had a fair share of guys, fast bowlers especially, who have been injured the last little bit. It's something we'll have to cope with.
"With the A game going on at the moment and the Shield game just starting out the back here I'm sure the selectors will be looking long and hard at a lot of those players playing in those couple of games. By the time they're ready to announce the squad for Brisbane, I'm sure we'll have a very competitive XI come Thursday."
While the list of players ruled out reflected the hideously cramped nature of the international schedule in 2011, Ponting said it also had a little to do with the fact the New Zealand series was being followed by a major four-match contest against India.
"That's the way it's been for the last six or seven years in Australian cricket and that's why we've had the turnover of players that we did," Ponting said. "You have a look at the time I was captain. I don't know how many debutants I had compared to what we had the previous 10 years before that but I think that's just international cricket.
"I dont know if it's ever too much but I've said for the last few years you can't fit any more in, it's as simple as that. The international programme is so full and to have what we've just had at that time of year and to come back to an Australian summer that's as busy as it is, I'm sure by the end of the summer we'll have a few more guys that are looking for a bit of a break.
"The management thing around our group is crucial and we have to make sure that we've got all of our guys fit and healthy for when the really big series comes around. There's no doubt after we play New Zealand in the next two Test matches, the next series that we play is a very big one against India."
Marsh and Watson are expected to be some chance of playing in the second Test of the series in Hobart, but the futures of Harris, Johnson and Cummins are less clear. Cummins' heel problem is expected to be given plenty of recovery time as CA is very conscious of not burning out the 18-year-old after his stunning Test debut in South Africa.
"Pat Cummins experienced left heel pain towards the end of the second innings in his debut Test match. He had scans that have cleared him of any serious injury but we don't expect that he will fully recover in time," Alex Kountouris, the Australian team physio, said. "He will be reviewed early next week to determine his workload plan for the summer."
Johnson's foot injury, sustained during the second innings of the Johannesburg Test, has resulted in considerable swelling, and he will consult a foot specialist before plans are made for his recovery.
"His foot was considerably swollen and painful after the game but he is showing early signs of improvement. He will not return to training in time to be fit for the Gabba," Kountouris said. "His return to training and playing will be clearer in coming days after he is assessed by a foot specialist in Perth and the swelling has had a chance to resolve."
Harris is yet to bowl again after missing the second Test due to his pelvis injury, and his recovery will continue to be monitored.
"He is making good progress but has not returned to bowling as yet and is therefore unavailable to play the first Test against New Zealand," Kountouris said. "A decision on his return to training will be made early next week and will determine his return to playing."
Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo