REUTERS - Australia will not risk playing captain Michael Clarke in next week's second test against Sri Lanka if he is not fully fit, chairman of selectors John Inverarity said on Sunday.
Clarke is doubtful for the Melbourne test starting on Wednesday after a hamstring problem forced him to retire hurt while batting on the fourth day of Australia's 137-run win in the opening match of the series in Hobart.
The 31-year-old batsman, who is the leading scorer in tests in 2012 with 1,489 runs, has repeatedly said he was confident of returning to fitness in time for the second test at the MCG but Inverarity was not sure it was worth taking the risk.
"He's a very precious asset and I would go low risk," Inverarity told reporters after watching Sunday's training session at the MCG, in which Clarke underwent light duties.
"He's always upbeat, he desperately wants to play. But we certainly don't want to push him especially hard in a test and for him to break down."
If Clarke fails to prove his fitness over the next couple of days, his place in the batting order could got to Usman Khawaja, while all-rounder Shane Watson will take over as captain.
Watson said he could fully understand why Clarke was so keen to lead Australia in the Boxing Day test at the MCG.
"It's just about as big as it gets for an Australian cricketer," Watson said.
"... It's an amazing opportunity to think that something like that has come along in your life.
"But I'm trying not to get too far in front of myself at the moment. I know Michael will be doing everything he can to get right for this test match."
Australia have been forced to reshuffle their pace attack due to injuries and fatigue in recent matches and are set for another line-up change with Ben Hilfenhaus ruled out of the second test.
Left-armers Mitchell Starc and Mitchell Johnston, and the uncapped Jackson Bird are vying to join Peter Siddle in a three-pronged pace attack at the MCG, with selectors likely to retain off-spinner Nathan Lyon.
Inverarity confirmed that the selectors would continue with their rotation policy to preserve the fitness of the remaining bowlers and Starc was next in line.
"It's about bowling loads," he said. "The science behind it is that they've got to build up their bowling loads so the oscillations are not very significant.
"If they do become reasonably significant, as they have done for Mitchell (Starc), then you enter a danger period, a high-risk period."
(Writing by Sudipto Ganguly in Mumbai; Editing by John O'Brien)