Brad Haddin is in line for a shock test recall after Michael Clarke broke down with a hamstring injury, which not only threatens to bring his golden run to a premature end but also expose the dearth in Australia's batting stocks.
The five-man selection panel held a teleconference on Monday night when they drew up a contingency plan to prepare for conquering the Sri Lankans in Melbourne without their captain and star batsman.
Clarke will receive the results of scans on his injured right hamstring on Tuesday, and although he will take the field as Australia push for victory in Hobart on the final day, he is in huge doubt to lead the team for the Boxing Day test.
Shane Watson has received an endorsement from coach and selector Mickey Arthur to captain the team in Clarke's absence in Melbourne but finding a replacement for this year's leading test runs-scorer is looming as a far more difficult task.
Haddin, dumped for Matthew Wade as test keeper at the start of the summer, has emerged as a contender in an open field after his commanding form with the bat for NSW in the Sheffield Shield, and would play as a specialist batsman if selected.
The veteran gloveman's experience would also help fill the massive hole left in the Australian dressing room after Ricky Ponting's retirement.
When Ponting called time on his decorated career last month few would have thought his successor and long-time deputy could be joining him in the outer within the space of two tests.
Should Clarke be ruled out for the second test, Australia will have lost their two most experienced players and 255 matches of experience in just three weeks.
Haddin was vice-captain in Watson's absence last summer against India, and his leadership is highly rated by the Australian hierarchy.
''Haddin's one of them, [Rob] Quiney's one of them and certainly Usman Khawaja's very much in the frame, Alex Doolan's played well,'' Arthur said when asked who were in the running to take Clarke's berth.
''We'll have those discussions tonight, [there's] no clarity just yet.''
Clarke's injury has come at a time of great consternation about the quality of batting reinforcements around the country.
Haddin, 35, would only be a short-term solution, and there are question marks over the claims of Khawaja, Quiney and Doolan.
Khawaja, dumped a year ago, is among the leading scorers in the Shield this summer but selectors remain concerned about the left-hander's perceived limited range of strokeplay, running between the wickets and ordinary fielding.
Quiney, although highly rated as a team man and in the field, did himself no favours with scores of 9, 0 and 0 in his two tests against South Africa.
Doolan won acclaim from the selection panel for his unbeaten 161 for Australia A against South Africa's high-class pace attack but this season has been his first of scoring consistently.
The magnitude of the dilemma confronting selectors was illustrated on Monday when the hosts suffered a dramatic batting collapse in the second innings, losing nine wickets in less than 33 overs.
The pursuit of quick runs for a declaration was a mitigating factor, however there will be concerns about the lack of steel in Australia's line-up when Clarke does not dominate.
He had creamed a half-century at better than a run a ball before disaster struck midway through the second session when he hurt his hamstring running between wickets.
Clarke immediately called for physiotherapist Alex Kountouris then headed straight into the dressing rooms for more treatment.
He did not return to the crease but took his place in the slips cordon, where he put down a straightforward chance from Sri Lankan star Kumar Sangakkara.
Watson is set to become Australia's 44th test captain if Clarke is unavailable, although placing extra responsibility on the star all-rounder is far from ideal.
Watson has skippered Australia eight times for a 2-1 victory over Sri Lanka in the finals of last summer's triangular ODI tournament, and shared a split series against the West Indies in the Caribbean.
''I think it will be a really good challenge for Shane - we'll learn about Shane and his leadership ability,'' Arthur said. ''I'm confident he'll come through that very, very well. If that does materialise it'll be a very, very good opportunity.''
- Sydney Morning Herald
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