Chasing the Proteas’ gargantuan 416, Head was struck on the left glove by Gerald Coetzee, and though he tried to bat on, soon retired hurt in obvious pain.
Head coach Andrew McDonald confirmed the fracture after South Africa completed a 164-run victory. To lose such a damaging player in the weeks before a global event is among a selector’s worst nightmares.
“At this stage, it’s a confirmed fracture and how long that timeframe is, we’re yet to determine that so fingers crossed clearly with the World Cup fast approaching,” McDonald said.
“I’m not a medical person, but I think it’s a little bit higher up than the actual [index] finger itself. But I don’t know the actual terminology. It’s in a joint somewhere, so I won’t go into the medical specifics. But, yeah, a confirmed fracture and to be assessed again tomorrow with another scan.”
Following the retirement of Aaron Finch, Head loomed as a pivotal part of the Australian blueprint for success in the World Cup in India, which starts early next month. Since January last year, Head has been one of the most destructive ODI players in the game, hammering 791 runs at 60.84 and a strike rate of 119.84.
Without him, appears certain to squeeze into the 15-man squad for the World Cup when it is finalised on September 28, while the places of Mitchell Marsh and Steve Smith may also need to be adjusted – Marsh to open alongside and Smith to bat three.
The loss of Head’s part-time off spin is also a not insignificant problem for Australia’s team balance.
The top order had looked Australia’s strongest suit heading into the tournament, with injury and performance problems further down the list for the likes of Marcus Stoinis, and Alex Carey.
Perhaps the sole bright spot for Australia in the Centurion defeat was a freewheeling innings of 99 from 77 balls.
Incredibly, Carey was the only Australian batter to face more than 25 deliveries, emphasising the scale of the defeat after Heinrich Klaasen launched a rocket of an innings, clobbering 174 from 83 balls after Marsh sent the hosts in to bat.
Maxwell (ankle), Smith (wrist), captain Pat Cummins (wrist), Ashton Agar (paternal leave) and Mitchell Starc (hamstring) will all return from injury to the squad for the white ball tour of India that is wedged in between South Africa and the start of the World Cup.
Cameron Green, meanwhile, is in the latter stages of his recovery from a concussion suffered in game one of the series, and is expected to be available for the final game at the Wanderers in Johannesburg on Sunday night.
“He’s been cleared by the medical team,” McDonald said. “So he’s just working away getting prepared. Hopefully, he’s available for game five. That’s the plan at this stage. We’ll be able to have some training tomorrow, assess that and there will be some forced changes.”
But it will be Head’s likely absence for at least a major chunk of the cup that will weigh most heavily on the Australian team leadership over the next few weeks.
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