The West Indies' incident-prone tour of Australia has taken another turn for the worse, with senior batsman Ramnaresh Sarwan in serious doubt for the first Test after hurting his back during a fielding drill on Wednesday. The injury, believed to be muscular and not structural, will be monitored by medical staff overnight and Sarwan will be subjected to a fitness test shortly before the coin toss on Thursday to determine his availability.

Sarwan fell awkwardly while training at the Allan Border Field and lay on the turf for several minutes in obvious discomfort. He grimaced as he was assisted from the field by West Indies team physiotherapist CJ Clark, and later left the ground walking gingerly. Should Sarwan succumb to his back injury, either Travis Dowlin or Narsingh Deonarine will take his place in the top order.

"It would damage us a bit," Chris Gayle, the West Indies captain, said of the prospect of losing Sarwan for the first Test. "It's not good news, but we're going to keep working and hopefully tomorrow he'll be fit. He was one who got a few runs in the last game so he's in good nick. To lose him at this point in time is a crucial point in time, but if that's the case someone will have to stand up and contribute in whatever areas."

The back injury is the latest ailment to strike Sarwan this tour. He was inconvenienced during the recent tour game against Queensland by a rash that kept him off the field on the third day. It was a minor irritation and he was able to bat in the second innings, but he also needed treatment after being struck on the left knee.

"In life things happen suddenly," Gayle said. "This is the case we have to deal with. It's not what we wanted a this point in time building up to the Test match. This is how it is now. We just have to try and be positive in whatever we do. We're not looking for any excuses. We're big men and we just have to handle our business out there in the middle regardless of what's been hapenning off the field."

West Indies desperately need Sarwan's veteran presence in the top of the order, especially considering the tired state of Gayle, who arrived in Brisbane on Wednesday morning following a mercy dash to Jamaica to be at the bedside of his ill mother. Sarwan's record in Australia is poor, with only two half-centuries in six Tests, but he managed a defiant 128 against Ricky Ponting's men in Antigua last year.

Ponting said the loss of Sarwan would serve as a "massive blow" for West Indies. "To have their captain going halfway round the world in the past couple of days and one of their better batsmen going down, it's obviously not a great start for them, but all we can do is prepare for both those guys to play," Ponting said. "We've talked about those guys' importance to their team, so we'll just wait and see what they come out with."


Alex Brown is deputy editor of Cricinfo