Sydney - Australian vice-captain Michael Clarke hobbled through an innings on Saturday, raising fears an ongoing back problem could hamper his preparations for the opening Ashes Test, which is just 12 days away.
Clarke helped New South Wales draw their Sheffield Shield match against Victoria at the Sydney Cricket Ground.
But the batsman, a pivotal figure in the Aussies attempt to regain the Ashes, was in pain as he occupied the crease, regularly crouching on his haunches and throwing his head back in pain during his 102-minute innings.
Clarke finished not out 39 in a courageous knock, sharing a 92-run partnership with Test wicketkeeper Brad Haddin (61 not out) that carried NSW to 254 for six and ensured a draw against the Victorians.
Neither Clarke nor NSW physio Murray Ryan were prepared to speak to the media after the game, but captain Stuart Clark insisted the star batsman was okay and would likely play in the next Shield match against Tasmania starting on Wednesday.
Clarke's body language, however, suggested he may have a race on his hands to regain full mobility before the first Test starts on November 25 in Brisbane.
"His back's nowhere near as bad as people probably think," Clark said.
"The physio will asses Michael over the next couple of days, but at this stage I will assume he is playing (next week)."