Australia’s Ashes hopes have been dealt a huge blow, with captain Meg Lanning ruled out of the Commonwealth Bank Women’s Ashes after undergoing shoulder surgery.
Lanning saw a specialist upon her return home from Australia’s World Cup campaign in the United Kingdom, which ended with defeat to India in the semi-finals, and surgery on the injured joint was deemed necessary.
She went under the knife in Melbourne on Wednesday and is expected to be sidelined for six to eight months.
"Meg has been managing a right shoulder injury and following the recent World Cup, it became apparent that she would require surgery," Cricket Australia Team Physiotherapist Kate Mahony said.
"Meg underwent surgery earlier this week and we expect that she will require a long rehabilitation period of 6-8 months, ruling her out of the upcoming Ashes Series.
"We will continue to monitor her progress, with return to play timelines to become clearer once she has commenced rehabilitation."
It’s a major setback for the No.1 ranked Australians, whose Ashes defence begins in just over two months against an England team sure to be full of confidence after their World Cup triumph.
The first Ashes one-day international will be played in Brisbane on October 22, the first of seven matches they will play throughout the multi-format series.
"Whilst it’s very disappointing to be unavailable for the Ashes, I’m looking forward to getting stuck into my rehabilitation and returning to cricket as soon as possible," Lanning said.
"It’s an incredibly special occasion for any cricketer to be a part of and I wish the team all the best as they set out to retain the Ashes."
The injury also rules Lanning, who is captain of both Victoria and Melbourne Stars, out of the Women’s National Cricket League and Rebel Women’s Big Bash League this summer.
Australia’s next assignment after the Ashes is likely to be a tour of India early next year, although the schedule for the next four-year ICC Women’s Championship is yet to be announced by the international cricket body.
Lanning, 25, had been managing the chronic injury for the best part of 12 months and had been prevented from throwing overarm since the start of last summer. But she managed to play through last season's ODI series' against South Africa and New Zealand as well as the Rebel Women’s Big Bash League without incident.
But the injury worsened leading into the World Cup and throughout the six-week tournament Lanning was limited to light training and her shoulder was kept heavily strapped, with the captain forced to sit out two of Australia’s group matches to rest the joint.
Despite the injury, Lanning still managed to score 328 runs at 82 in six innings in the UK, including a career-best 152no against Sri Lanka.
The National Selection Panel will now seek endorsement from Cricket Australia's board for a replacement captain for the Ashes.
With Lanning unavailable, it is likely experienced NSW batter Rachael Haynes will again step in as skipper as she did at the World Cup. Haynes played just two matches during the tournament - the two Lanning missed - and only returned to the Australian ODI side this year after a three-and-a-half-year absence.
But the 30-year-old was handed the captaincy ahead of other candidates including vice-captain Alex Blackwell and Sydney Sixers skipper Ellyse Perry, becoming Australia’s 17th ODI skipper in the process.
Head coach Matthew Mott explained at the time it was a decision made with the long-term future in mind, given the likelihood that Lanning’s injury would sideline the Victorian for a significant period at some point.
"We felt that Rachael was very similar in her style to Meg, and that leadership model was something that we wanted to keep together," Mott said in early July.
"I think she's going to be a captain of the future, we have to play things by ear with Meg and how long she can keep persisting with this shoulder injury.
"She's a long-term option for us."
Haynes' hiatus from international cricket ended in February when she was a last-minute call-up to the Australian ODI squad as injury cover for Blackwell.
She impressed in her sole one-day appearance since that recall, scoring fifty against New Zealand in Auckland, with her composed return enough to earn a 2017-18 contract offer.
It's that unflappable demeanor that had Haynes, who has played three Tests, 36 ODIs and 27 T20s for Australia, earmarked as an ideal stand-in leader.
The NSW batter also had previous leadership experience at state level, leading Victoria to two titles in the Australian Women’s T20 Cup – the predecessor to the WBBL – in 2009-10 and 2010-11 before her relocation to the Breakers for the 2011-12 summer.
Australia's Ashes preparations will include a camp in Brisbane next month and several practice matches before the first ODI against England, while players will also be involved in the opening round of the Women’s National Cricket League on October 6-7.
First ODI Allan Border Field, October 22
Brisbane Charity Partner: Lord Mayor's Charitable Trust
Second ODI Coffs International Stadium, October 26
Third ODI Coffs International Stadium, October 29
Day-Night Test North Sydney Oval, November 9-12
First T20 North Sydney Oval, November 17
North Sydney Charity Partner: McGrath Foundation
Second T20 Manuka Oval, November 19
Third T20 Manuka Oval, November 21
Canberra Charity Partner: Lord's Taverners ACT