Michael Clarke has re-injured his hamstring, leaving Australia with fitness concerns surrounding both their captain and vice-captain less than three weeks before the first Test against India. Clarke suffered the injury during the first ODI against South Africa in Perth, where he scored 11 from 20 deliveries before gloving behind when he tried to hook Dale Steyn.
Clarke was immediately ruled out of playing any further part in the match and will undergo scans on Saturday to assess the extent of the damage. The injury is a potentially major concern for the Australians so close to their Test campaign and it continues a wretched period for Clarke, who initially injured his hamstring at Australia's first training session in Zimbabwe in August.
Clarke made only one appearance during that tri-series, in Australia's loss to Zimbabwe, and he aggravated the hamstring while batting in that game. The Australians then took a conservative approach with Clarke in the lead-up to their tour of the UAE, where he sat out of the one-day games against Pakistan and returned to lead Australia to two Test defeats.
"I've tweaked my hamstring again," Clarke told Channel Nine during South Africa's innings at the WACA. "I have a scan tomorrow so I don't know much to be honest. It's certainly not nice. All I can do is wait and have the scan and go from there ... Early in my innings I took off for a run and I felt it grab. I said to Watto at the time that I've just felt my hamstring again.
"I have to have a scan tomorrow and then it will be dictated by physios, doctors, surgeons as well, I guess. My fingers are crossed that it's not that bad and I'll be able to fix the problem. But the fact is I've had this injury three times in the last six weeks. It's on the same leg. I've had a long stint of rehab trying to get it strong and unfortunately it's come back again. That's not positive."
Clarke's hamstring troubles are believed to be related to his chronic back problem, which he has battled since his youth and which ruled him out of the Delhi Test against India last year. That remains the only Test that Clarke has missed due to injury but it might not be for long, given the setback he has now suffered so close to the Gabba Test, which begins on December 4.
It is hard to imagine that Clarke will take any part in the remaining four ODIs against South Africa. His one-day vice-captain George Bailey stepped in as leader during South Africa's innings at the WACA and would take charge throughout the rest of the series if Clarke is ruled out. However, the leadership order for the Test side is not so clear-cut.
Brad Haddin is the Test vice-captain but he is also under an injury cloud, having been ruled out of the ODI series due to a shoulder problem. Australia's medical staff remain hopeful that Haddin will be available for the first Test against India, but he will likely need to prove his fitness during a Sheffield Shield match for New South Wales in the last week of November.
Haddin suffered the injury while diving for a catch during the second Test against Pakistan in Abu Dhabi, where David Warner and Glenn Maxwell later shared the duties behind the stumps. The selectors had already announced that Haddin would rest from the first two ODIs in Perth and named Matthew Wade as his replacement, and Wade will likely now fill the role for the whole series.
"Brad has had a further assessment of his right shoulder by Cricket Australia chief medical officer Dr John Orchard in Sydney which confirmed an AC joint injury," the team physio Alex Kountouris said. "He has improved and responded to treatment since returning from the UAE but has not recovered sufficiently to return to training and therefore he has been declared unfit for the remainder of ODI series against South Africa.
"Whilst it is disappointing that Brad will miss the ODI series, the CA medical team are still hopeful that he will recover in time for the first Test against India."
Although x-rays cleared Haddin of a fracture to his shoulder, he sustained significant bruising and will likely need to play before the Gabba Test to prove his fitness. His best chance to do that will be for New South Wales in their Sheffield Shield match against South Australia at the SCG, which starts on November 25, two days after the final ODI.
"He would have to play some cricket before the first Test starts," Australia's coach Darren Lehmann said on Brisbane radio station 4BC. "There's a Shield game before the first Test, so if he misses all the one-dayers then he would probably have to play that I would think."
If Clarke and Haddin were both to miss the Gabba Test, it would leave the selectors needing to find a Test captain at short notice. When Clarke and Haddin were both off the field during their tour game against Pakistan A in Sharjah last month, Chris Rogers was in charge, but the more likely candidate would be Shane Watson, who led Australia in the Delhi Test when he was still Clarke's official vice-captain.