Mitchell Starc admits he could be touch and go for the early part of the four-Test tour of India starting in February, while Pat Cummins has declared injured allrounder Cameron Green as close to irreplaceable as Australia are hit with a rare injury crisis as they try to qualify for the World Test Championship final.
Australia wrapped up their three-Test series win against South Africa 2-0 with a match to play thanks to a thumping innings victory at the MCG but it came at a major cost. Starc and Green have both been ruled out of the third Test in Sydney with finger injuries.
Green flew home to Perth on Thursday while the game was still going to recover from a broken index finger and there has been no timeframe put on his recovery, although he is expected to be fit for the India tour. The same can't be said for Starc who has a detached tendon in the top of his middle finger on his bowling hand, which occurred when he attempted to take a catch on the first day of the game.
Starc was able to bat and bowl in the remainder of the game but admits he does not know what his recovery timeframe looks like as he needs to consult a specialist in Sydney.
"I'm getting another scan in Sydney and seeing a finger specialist to work through all that," Starc said after Australia wrapped up victory in Melbourne inside four days.
"Obviously India is coming up, so we'll see what the timeframes are after I've had those discussions next week. Hopefully [my return] fits in somewhere at the front end of the tour.
"Apart from the finger being out of action, I can still train to some degree and bowl in creative ways to keep up my workloads up whilst the finger not being impacted. So that side of it is going to be fine. It's just where the timeframe of the tendon comes into it for the India tour.
"From the scans the other day the tendon's basically gone from the top of the finger so I can't straighten it."
Australia likely to name Sydney squad on Friday
Australia's first Test against India starts on February 9 in Nagpur. Starc has not missed a Test match since the 2019 Ashes and was a key part of Australia's last two subcontinent tours when Australia played only two specialist quicks in four of the five Test matches in Pakistan and Sri Lanka, with Green as the allrounder.
India aside, Cummins' immediate concern is replacing both Starc and Green for the third Test against South Africa in Sydney.
"The first thing is to probably have a look at the wicket up there," Cummins said post the MCG win. "From afar it looks a little bit dry this year. I'm sure we'll add an extra spinner to the mix. Greeny is pretty close to being irreplaceable I think as a top order batter that gives you another bowling option. We'll chat through all those combinations when we get a bit closer but we're not settled on anything."
Cummins confirmed that he and Australia's selectors would discuss the squad on Thursday night and announce it Friday. Australia coach Andrew McDonald confirmed on SEN on Wednesday morning that Australia would likely pick a spinner who complements Nathan Lyon rather than a second offspinner like Victoria's Todd Murphy.
Queensland legspinner Mitchell Swepson partnered Lyon in four Tests in Pakistan and Sri Lanka but appears to have fallen out of favour. Ashton Agar is looking like the possible second option with Australia keen to have a left-arm finger spinner in the side for India following the success of Steve O'Keefe in 2017, and the success of India's duo, Ravindra Jadeja and Axar Patel, more broadly.
Agar played his first two first-class games in 18 months just recently for the Prime Minister's XI and Western Australia, returning figures of 3 for 212 from 78.4 overs while battling to readjust to red-ball bowling after so much limited-overs cricket.
Australia's other white-ball spinner Adam Zampa has also thrown his hand up to play Test cricket after playing his first first-class game in three years in November, taking 3 for 57 and 0 for 49 for New South Wales against Victoria, but seems an unlikely candidate for Sydney.
Cummins admitted Australia could look to trial some players for India in the Sydney Test but acknowledged that they still need to win to shore up their place in the World Test Championship final.
"I think it's a mix," Cummins said, "It's probably going to be the wicket in Australia that closest resembles India, even if it doesn't spin big. So it might give us a chance to have a look at one or two players that will be on that Indian tour ahead of that. But the first priority is of course to win the Test match."
Lance Morris could be Starc's replacement
There was no indication of who would replace Starc but McDonald had mentioned on SEN on Wednesday that West Australian quick Lance Morris could be Starc's replacement given his raw pace and striking ability.
"He may be looking like he'll get an opportunity in Sydney depending on the balance of that attack," McDonald said.
Josh Hazlewood has declared he is fit after ruling himself out of the Boxing Day Test. But Australia won't have any workload issues to worry about with either Cummins or Scott Boland after Starc braved the pain at the MCG to deliver 18 overs and take the wicket of Sarel Erwee.
"Some painkillers helped," Starc said. "I think it's probably just taking a little bit of the pressure off my middle finger onto the ball, which I think actually helped my seam position. So I might see if they want to leave it detached for a bit longer because it's helping the swing.
"It was just to hopefully play a role and be able to not leave them a bowler down. I'm sure they would have been able to do it, but it would have been a big ask for just Scotty, Pat and Nath [Lyon] to bowl [on their own]. I think Pat came over three balls into that first over of the second innings and said this is going better than we thought and I certainly was of the same opinion. It was just nice to be able to play a role and contribute in that second innings."