Injury doubt: Australian cricket captain Michael Clarke. Photo: Getty Images
Just when the task to regain the Ashes from England this summer appeared tough enough there is more bad news for Australia: Michael Clarke may not be fit in time for next month's first Test in Brisbane.
The Australian captain admitted on Thursday that he was far from confident of being able to overcome the latest flare-up of a long-running and degenerative back problem in time for the opening match of the series at the Gabba.
He was ruled out of the limited-overs tour of India that starts next week but even with more than six weeks until the first Test starts on November 21 he says he is not optimistic about facing England.
"There is certainly no guarantee at this stage," Clarke said. "It's hard for me to say that because I'm trying my best not to look at it like that. I'm always positive. If you ask me I'll say "Oh, I'll be fit in a week's time'. But if you ask [Australian physio] Alex [Kountouris], who knows me very well, I'd imagine he'd certainly say that there's doubt that I won't be right.
"Where I sit right now is I don't know when I'll be back playing cricket. We have no idea how long it's going to take."
In a further blow, fast bowler James Pattinson also revealed he was no chance of returning from a back stress fracture in Brisbane, instead identifying the third Test in Perth as the earliest he could bowl again for Australia.
Losing Clarke, however, would be a huge setback. Kountouris will fly back and forth from his base in Melbourne to Sydney to treat the 32-year-old in the lead-up to the Test series.
Clarke has battled the back condition since it was diagnosed at the age of 17. "I need to do everything I can to give myself the best chance," he said. "It's treatment twice a day, it's plenty of rehab, plenty of recovery, it's getting my strength back in the areas that support my back.
"It's a lot of hard work, but I'm willing to do the work to make sure I'm right for that first Test hopefully."
George Bailey will captain Australia in India in Clarke's absence. Their first match is a Twenty20 international at Rajkot next Thursday.
Pattinson said he was not yet back running after his withdrawal early in the Ashes series in England in the winter and was awaiting a scan on his back in a fortnight’s time.
‘‘I’m probably about a month off bowling,’’ he said. ‘‘I won’t be back for the first Test and I don’t think I’ll be right for the second. Hopefully all going well I could push for that WACA Test. It’s probably rushing a bit if I’m trying to get back for the first Test, and the last thing I want is it to happen again and really push my body too far. It’s hard enough going through it once; you don’t want to go through it again.’’