Head injury could force World Cup rethink

Broken hand has opener in doubt for World Cup and could leave Aussies needing another partner for David Warner

Injury blow as Head retires hurt with hand knock

Having seemingly locked away the position that eluded him for the previous event four years ago, Travis Head is in a race against time to be fit for the World Cup after suffering a fractured hand in Australia's horror 164-run loss to South Africa in the fourth ODI.

Australia head coach Andrew McDonald said post-match that scans had confirmed a fracture to Head's left hand after he was struck by a rising ball from Proteas speedster Gerald Coetzee before retiring hurt two overs later on 17 as the visitors were bowled out for 252 at Centurion in response to South Africa's mammoth 5-416.

Further scans on Saturday are expected to reveal the extent of the fracture but with just over three weeks until Australia's ODI World Cup opener against India in Chennai on October 8, Head's involvement is now under a cloud.

If Head were to miss the start of the World Cup, a return to the top of the order for Mitch Marsh would appear the most likely scenario, while the expected return of Cameron Green from concussion for Sunday's fifth ODI provides another option.

'Forced changes': McDonald gives update on injury concerns

Marsh averaged 97 striking at more than 130 from three innings opening the batting during Australia's three-match series in India in March, while Green has also enjoyed success at the top in white-ball cricket with two half-centuries during last year's T20 tour of India.

Should Head be ruled out for the entire World Cup campaign, it could open the door for Australian selectors to squeeze the in-form Marnus Labuschagne into their squad after being overlooked in the provisional 15-player touring party.

Australia are permitted to make any changes to their 15-player squad until September 28, after which any changes would need approval from the ICC.

If Head does miss the start of the World Cup, George Bailey and his national selection panel would need to weigh up how long they could carry the opener in their squad.

If selectors choose to replace the left-hander before the September 28 deadline, the only way the 29-year-old could come back into the squad if he recovers by the end of the tournament would be through an injury to another player.

"The nature of what time frame that (injury) lends itself to, that will be assessed tomorrow," McDonald said after Friday's fourth ODI.

"He's going to go in for more scans tomorrow to get a detail of that, then we'll work out the management of it from there.

"I'm not a medical person but I think it's a bit higher up than the finger itself ... it's in a joint (in the hand) somewhere.

Head retired hurt after being struck on the hand in the 7th over // Getty

"Fingers crossed with the World Cup fast approaching."

It's the latest blow for the Aussies amid a string of injuries ahead of the World Cup, with Head and veteran David Warner having formed a formidable opening combination since the South Australian's return to the ODI side last November.

Having been dropped six months out from the last World Cup, Head had seized his opportunity this time around with 481 runs at 60 in the past 10 months.

In that time, the Head and Warner partnership has averaged 93.42 in seven innings opening the batting with a highest stand of 269 against England at the MCG last November, which fell just shy of their record Australian ODI partnership of 284 in 2017.

A positive for Australia on the injury front is that McDonald confirmed Green had been cleared by the medical team to return from a concussion suffered in the first ODI and would hopefully be available for the fifth match on Sunday in Johannesburg, while Steve Smith also had his first hit in the nets on Tuesday after being sidelined with a wrist injury following the Ashes.

Captain Pat Cummins (fractured wrist), Mitchell Starc (groin soreness) and Glenn Maxwell (ankle soreness) are also missing from the tour of South Africa but are expected to join the Australian squad during the three-match series in India ahead of the World Cup.

"There will be some forced changes (for the fifth ODI) and we'll have some guys potentially a little bit sore," McDonald said.

"The biggest concern we've got is some injuries to players that aren't here.

"They're progressing well, and they'll be big inclusions, but we'd prefer to focus on what's happening here and we've seen some exposure to debutants, and we've built a bit more depth in our squad.

"We expect (Marsh) to be back bowling in India … we're just giving him some respite from those lower leg issues that he's had and building him up for the World Cup.

"Like other players, we have to manage that and make sure we're peaking at the right time.

"We've got Glenn Maxwell progressing well so when those players do come back and feature with the ball, it gives us a little more depth."

2023 Qantas ODIs v South Africa

September 7: Australia won by three wickets

September 9: Australia won by 123 runs

September 12: South Africa won by 111 runs

September 15: South Africa won by 164 runs

September 17: Fifth ODI, Johannesburg, 6pm AEST

Australia ODI squad: Mitchell Marsh (c), Sean Abbott, Ashton Agar, Alex Carey, Pat Cummins, Tim David, Nathan Ellis, Cameron Green, Aaron Hardie, Josh Hazlewood, Travis Head, Josh Inglis, Spencer Johnson, Marnus Labuschagne, Michael Neser, Tanveer Sangha, Marcus Stoinis, David Warner, Adam Zampa

South Africa ODI squad: Temba Bavuma (c), Gerald Coetzee, Quinton de Kock, Brjor Fortuin, Reeza Hendricks, Marco Jansen, Heinrich Klaasen, Sisanda Magala, Keshav Maharaj, Aiden Markram, David Miller, Lungi Ngidi, Anrich Nortje, Tabraiz Shamsi, Kagiso Rabada, Rassie van der Dussen