A head injury could require a rethinking of the World Cup.

The World Cup opener is in question due to a broken hand, and Australia may want another partner for David Warner.

Travis Head is in a battle against time to be fit for the World Cup after suffering a fractured hand in Australia’s humiliating 164-run loss to South Africa in the fourth One-Day International.

Australia’s head coach, Andrew McDonald, said after the game that scans had revealed a fracture in Head’s left hand after he was struck by a rising ball from Proteas speedster Gerald Coetzee, forcing him to retire 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.

More scans are planned on Saturday to confirm the degree 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 participation is now in doubt.

If Head misses the start of the World Cup, Mitch Marsh’s return to the top of the order appears to be the most likely scenario, although Cameron Green’s scheduled comeback from concussion for Sunday’s fifth ODI presents another alternative.

Marsh averaged 97 strikes at more than 130 during Australia’s three-match series in India in March, while Green has also had success at the top in white-ball cricket, scoring two half-centuries during last year’s T20 tour of India.

If Head is ruled out for the entire World Cup campaign, Australian selectors may be able to shoehorn the in-form Marnus Labuschagne into their team after he was overlooked in the provisional 15-player touring group.

“The nature of what time frame that (injury) lends itself to, that will be assessed tomorrow,” McDonald said following the fourth ODI on Friday.

“He’s going in for more scans tomorrow to get a better picture of that, and then we’ll figure out how to manage it from there.”

“I’m not a doctor, but I believe it’s a little higher up than the finger itself… it’s somewhere in a joint (in the hand).”

“Fingers crossed, with the World Cup fast approaching.”

It’s the latest setback for the Australians ahead of the World Cup, with Head and veteran David Warner forming a strong opening combination since Head’s return to the ODI team last November.

After being dropped six months before the last World Cup, Head had made the most of his opportunity this time, scoring 481 runs at 60 in the previous ten months.

In that period, Head and Warner have averaged 93.42 in seven innings, opening the batting with a top stand of 269 against England at the MCG last November, falling just short of their record Australian ODI partnership of 284 in 2017.

On the injury front, McDonald confirmed that 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 missing the Ashes with a wrist injury.

Captain Pat Cummins (fractured wrist), Mitchell Starc (groin discomfort), and Glenn Maxwell (ankle pain) are also out of the South African tour, but are likely to join the Australian squad for the three-match series in India ahead of the World Cup.

“There will be some forced changes (for the fifth ODI), and some guys may be a little sore,” McDonald added.

“Our biggest concern is some injuries to players who aren’t here.”

“They’re making good progress and will be important additions, but we’d rather focus on what’s going on here and we’ve seen some exposure to debutants and we’ve built a bit more depth in our squad.”

“We expect (Marsh) to bowl again in India… We’re just giving him a break from his lower leg problems and getting him ready for the World Cup.

“Like other players, we must manage that and ensure that we peak at the appropriate time.”

“We’ve got Glenn Maxwell progressing nicely, so when those players do come back and feature with the ball, it gives us a little more depth.”