With the optimism over Michael Clarke’s fitness for the Test series against India fading fast, Australia’s selectors will have to ponder their captaincy options as well as the make-up of their bowling attack over the next week.
Chief selector Rod Marsh’s confidence the 33-year-old would be fit to face India at the Gabba on Dec 4 was undermined by Pat Howard on Monday, the team performance manager saying Clarke had virtually no chance of playing in the series.
Coach Darren Lehmann has not given up hope, however.
“Until I get confirmation, I’m not going to say he’s in or he’s out,” he told reporters in Perth on Monday.
“At the moment, he’s captain of Australia and, if he’s fit to play and gets through the next little bit, then hopefully he’ll front up in the first Test.”
Since taking over as captain in 2011, Clarke has managed a long-term back injury, which contributes to his frequent hamstring problems, to play all but one of his country’s 39 Tests.
But with Australia’s main priority over the next couple of months being to keep him fit for the World Cup, an understudy might now be required for the four matches against India.
The most obvious choice to become Australia’s 45th Test captain is vice captain Brad Haddin.
The wicketkeeper has the leadership qualities required but has also been ruled out of the ongoing one-day series against South Africa because of a shoulder injury.
Shane Watson, who stood in for the injured Clarke for one Test on the India tour last year, is another option but neither the 33-year-old all rounder nor Haddin, 37, are long term solutions.
George Bailey, 32, stood in as skipper of the one-day team after Clarke’s hamstring failed him again in the opening match of the series against South Africa last Friday.
The former Twenty20 captain is admired for his calm leadership but just 183 runs in the last Ashes series appear to have curtailed his Test career after only five matches.
Of the younger candidates, opening batsman David Warner is in the frame by virtue of being an automatic selection, but his chequered disciplinary record might work against him.
The 28-year-old was fined for a twitter outburst aimed at two journalists last year and suspended ahead of the first Ashes series of 2013 after punching England’s Joe Root.
Another top order batsman, Steve Smith, has come from nowhere to be widely touted as a future Australia captain.
Smith is one of the few players who returned from Australia’s 2-0 Test defeat at the hands of Pakistan in October with his reputation enhanced.
The 25-year-old, though, might be considered in need of more time to cement his status as a Test cricketer.