David Warner is in an 18-day race to be fit in time for the opening Test of the summer against India, after he was formally ruled out of the remainder of the white-ball matches and replaced in the squad by D'Arcy Short, while Australia's vice-captain Pat Cummins is also to be spelled until the opening long-from game at Adelaide Oval from December 17.
The groin/adductor tear Warner suffered while fielding against India on Sunday night at the SCG has not been ruled serious enough to remove him from calculations for the start of the Test series, although he will need to make a rapid recovery given the short turnaround time.
Former Cricket Australia team doctor Peter Brukner suggested* that in his experience, similar injuries were likely to take between four and six weeks to heal, and said that Warner would be more likely to be fit in time for the second Test at the MCG on Boxing Day than the first.
"It certainly seemed to be a significant injury, what we'd call a grade two, the fact he's not having surgery indicates he hasn't torn it off the bone or anything like that, but it was clearly more than a grade one and traditionally we'd say that was a four to six week injury if you're looking at a footballer, hopefully closer to four than to six," Brukner told SEN Radio. "It's 18 days between yesterday and the start of the first Test, so that's cutting it pretty fine.
"Probably the odds are that he's not going to make it, but knowing Davey he'll give it a good crack and he's in superb shape and he'll do everything possible, he'll be very well looked after by the physios, David Beakley and his group. So I think he's a chance but probably the odds are against him playing the first Test - second Test should be fine, much more realistic."
Australia's opening two victories over India made it patently clear how valuable Warner is as a top order batsman in home conditions, forming a platform against the new ball but also scoring freely and setting up an innings for the likes of Steven Smith and Marnus Labuschagne. Australia's' coach Justin Langer said Warner's timely return would be pivotal to the Test team's fortunes, in addition to giving Cummins some time off following his IPL stint and lengthy quarantine.
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"Pat and Davey are critical to our plans for the Test Series," Langer said. "Davey will work through his injury rehab and in Pat's case it is important all of our players are managed well to keep them mentally and physically fit throughout what is a challenging summer. The priority for both is being fully prepared for one of the biggest and most important home Test Series we have played in recent years, especially with World Test Championship points up for grabs."
Labuschagne said that Australia needed to adapt to a scenario where they would be missing Warner for at least four matches, but he expected the super-fit 33-year-old to make his return for the Test series.
"He's been a massive part of us winning this series and it's not great that we've lost him, but like anything it provides an opportunity for someone else to step up in the top order and make runs," Labuschagne said. "It's unfortunately how the game works, there's always an opportunity for someone else when something like that happens. We hope Davey gets a speedy recovery and he's back as soon as we can get him. He's a very strong character and he'll be back.
"I hope he's back for the Test series, but I'm not a physio or a doctor, so I think for us it's just about being able to adapt. We need to make sure we adapt for this last one-dayer and then if he's not available it provides an opportunity for someone else to step up. That's how we have to play it."
Short had been on standby in Sydney in the event of injury, and comes into the team with the benefit of a couple of Sheffield Shield appearances for Western Australia earlier in the season. It remains to be seen whether he slots straight in opposite Aaron Finch at the top of the order, or the selectors shuffle around their other available options, including that of Matthew Wade.
The uncertainty around Warner's fitness adds further intrigue to debate around the opening spots in the Test team, as the incumbent Joe Burns and the aspiring talent of Will Pucovski wait in hope of chances to wear the baggy green this summer. Labuschagne said that Burns was capable of stepping up to play a more senior role should Warner be absent.
"Joe's averaging 40 in Test cricket so he's certainly established and he's got four Test hundreds, so he's a very good player," Labuschagne said. "Although he hasn't made the runs in Shield cricket he would've liked, he got 99  against Pakistan in the first Test last summer and he negotiated through that new ball period almost every time.
"So he's not far away from a couple of really big scores and I think if he was to step up into that senior opener role, 100% I think he's that sort of player that can step up if the team really needs it."
Meanwhile, allrounder Mitchell Marsh will not join the Australia A squad for the matches against India as he continues his recovery from the ankle injury sustained at the IPL. He will now target a return in the BBL with the Perth Scorchers.
* Peter Brukner's quotes added at 6.30am GMT on November 30, 2020