AUSTRALIA faces the prospect of losing arguably its form player for the third Test against South Africa, with Mitch Marsh nursing a groin strain.
Port Elizabeth proved an unhappy hunting ground for Marsh, who also endured a gastro bug and code-of-conduct charge for swearing at Kagiso Rabada after the paceman bowled him on Monday.
Marsh was fined 20% of his match fee and given one demerit point for "using language or gesture that is obscene, offensive or insulting".
But it is the groin injury that will leave the West Australian racing the clock to prove his fitness for the clash that starts on Thursday week in Cape Town.
Marsh's setback is minor but an obvious concern for the tourists, who suffered a six-wicket loss in the second Test.
Peter Handscomb is the reserve batsman in the squad but selectors may opt to summon a like-for-like cover player for Marsh, such as Marcus Stoinis.
Marsh's knock of 96 in the first Test set the platform for Australia's 118-run win, while his resistance late on day three of the second Test helped give Australia some hope of setting a more imposing target than their eventual 101.
The 26-year-old has become Australia's middle-order rock since his Ashes recall, with David Warner the only Australian to have scored more runs than him in the current series.
Marsh has also picked up three clutch wickets in the four-Test series.
"He's got a bit of a groin strain, so he was struggling to move a little bit," captain Steve Smith said.
"It's a good break between now and the next Test match and he's telling me he'll be fine, but we'll wait and see how things go."
Smith suggested star pacemen Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood and Pat Cummins are all in good shape and should be fit for the third Test.
"All the quicks are going really well. I haven't heard (otherwise) today, but before today they were all feeling fine," he said.
"Hopefully with a good 10-day break they can freshen up a little bit."
Marsh was initially stationed at first slip on day four of the clash at St George's Park, the first pointer that all was not right.
He put down a simple catch when South Africa were 0-7.
"I was told at the break that he can actually run, so unfortunately he could've been out on the field," Smith said.
"He still should've taken that catch, but everyone drops it every now and again. I've been pretty guilty myself in recent times."
Marsh is one of six players already charged in the series.
LIST OF ICC CHARGES IN SOUTH AFRICA-AUSTRALIA SERIES
1. David Warner found guilty of level-two code of offence for "conduct that brings the game into disrepute". Warner needed to be physically restrained by teammates while rowing with Quinton de Kock in the staircase at tea on day four. Punishment: Fined 75 per cent of match fee and given three demerit points.
2. De Kock found guilty of level-one offence of "conduct that brings the game into disrepute" after making a personal comment that ignited the scrap with Warner. Punishment: Fined 25 per cent of match fee and given one demerit point.
3. Nathan Lyon found guilty of level-one offence of "conduct that is contrary to the spirit of the game", having dropped the ball near dismissed batsman AB de Villiers after completing a run out. Punishment: Fined 15 per cent of match fee and given one demerit point.
1. Kagiso Rabada found guilty of level-two offence, having made "inappropriate and deliberate physical contact" with Steve Smith during a send-off. Punishment: Fined 50 per cent of match fee and given three demerit points (triggering a two-Test ban because of his poor record).
2. Rabada found guilty of level-one offence of "using language, actions or gestures which could provoke an aggressive reaction" from David Warner during another spray. Punishment: Fined 15 per cent of match fee and given one demerit point.
3. Mitch Marsh found guilty of level-one offence of "using language or gesture that is obscene, offensive or insulting", having sworn at Rabada after being dismissed on day four. Punishment: Fined 20 per cent of match fee and given one demerit point.
How does it work?
- Points remain on a player's record for 24 months as an incentive to behave better.
- If a player has four demerit points on their record it results in a suspension of one Test or two limited-overs games. Eight demerit points triggers a suspension of two Tests or four limited-overs games.
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