Phillip Hughes on standby for Simon Katich
Australia's injury curse has seeped into the New Year with Phillip Hughes being flown back from Melbourne to cover for the opener Simon Katich for Sunday's second Test against Pakistan. Katich, who is battling to overcome a right elbow injury, was struck by Mohammad Aamer in the second innings in Melbourne and the problem threatens his blooming combination with Shane Watson.
"While he has made some improvement since the end of that game he is still having difficulty batting," Australia's physio Alex Kountouris said. "As such, he will have a final assessment of his batting tomorrow morning."
Katich had a light hit-out in the nets on match eve while Ricky Ponting was also forced to stretch out his lingering elbow problem a couple of times during his session. Ponting was hit by Kemar Roach in Perth and his rehabilitation included sessions in a hyperbaric chamber to speed up his recover. Katich isn't the captain and won't be going that far, but he has become an essential member of the side since his return in 2008 and led the team's run-list last year with 1,111.
Until the elbow injury Katich's main issue for the home summer had been converting his half-centuries into hundreds. Katich followed his 92 at the Gabba with 99 in Perth and 98 in the first innings in Melbourne. His strong starts with Watson have led to an average of 71 for the opening wicket since they came together for the third Ashes Test, when Watson was picked following Hughes' problems with the short ball.
Hughes was on standby before the MCG for Ponting and could be in line for his first Test in Australia on his home ground. He was due to appear in a domestic Twenty20 game for New South Wales on Saturday but was redirected to the SCG.
Hughes has played five Tests, scoring twin centuries in his second game, and at 21 is seen as a long-term option at the top of the order. Mohammad Aamer, the young opening bowler, knows more about Hughes than most international fast men after playing five under-19 one-dayers against him in 2006-07.
However, Hughes had the better of those exchanges and fell only once to Aamer after making 101 off 82 balls in Brisbane. "On my first under-19 tour to Australia he played against us," Aamer said. "As a batsman he is fine."
The openings keep appearing for Australia's fringe players, with Doug Bollinger getting his chance due to Ben Hilfenhaus' knee problem, while Clint McKay came in for Peter Siddle at the WACA when he was struggling with a hamstring complaint. Brett Lee, Stuart Clark and Nathan Bracken, a limited-overs specialist, are also out with long-term injuries.
Peter English is the Australasia editor of Cricinfo