Injured Watson's Test hopes slim
Shane Watson's only faint hope of playing against South Africa at the Gabba is as a batsman alone - and the team performance manager Pat Howard has revealed the national selectors are considering the possibility.
While Ricky Ponting is almost certain to be fit in time for day one at the Gabba, Watson is in severe doubt for the first Test of the summer due to what the team physio Alex Kountouris called a "minor grade" left calf strain. The possibility of Watson being fit to bowl in the match is negligible, but John Inverarity's selection panel have discussed Watson's value purely as a top six batsman.
"It has been discussed but there's no firm decision on that," Howard told ESPNcricinfo. "Those considerations have been brought up in the past, so right now without speaking on behalf of the selection panel, it is being considered. Everything's possible.
"Shane and Ricky are in doubt, but they're both reasonably new injuries and we'll know more soon, they're most certainly both in contention for the Test to differing degrees, and we'll have standby players ready over the next couple of days in and around the squad.
"We have some very initial scans on Shane, but our physio and chief medical officer, one has arrived in Brisbane and the other is arriving this afternoon, the selection panel will be arriving in from different parts of the country this afternoon as well. When they all get the big picture, not only on Shane but other players, then they can make some decisions over the next couple of days leading up to the Test."
The floating of Watson as a batsman is a departure from the team's previous view, which had stressed the importance of having him fit as both a bowler and a batsman. Last summer Watson himself floated the possibility of playing as a batsman during the home Tests as he recovered from a hamstring strain, but that was ruled out.
Watson said in Brisbane on Sunday that he was feeling some stiffness in the muscle and while he had not been ruled out of the Test, past experience had made him aware of the risks of rushing back too soon.
"It's still a little bit stiff, I'm just hoping it settles down over the next couple of days," Watson said. "Alex [Kountouris, the team physio] had a little look at it, we're just seeing how it sort of pans out over the next couple of days ... see whether I'm a chance to be able to play in the first Test.
"It's not as bad [as it's been], it's only pretty minor but I know how things can go if you don't really look after it and get it right the first time. I'll be certainly making sure I get it right the first time."
The selectors are set to name shadow players for both Watson and Ponting, though the latter is expected to be recovered from a hamstring niggle in time to play. Should Watson be ruled unfit for the Test, the Australia A captain Andrew McDonald's allround virtues are likely to be considered, though his presence would necessitate a shuffle in the batting order.
While the World Twenty20 in Sri Lanka and the Champions League in South Africa have seriously undercut the preparation of both Australia and South Africa for the forthcoming Tests, Howard said he took some consolation from the fact that the Shield round had allowed players to be tested.
"I think we're fortunate we have this round of games to start dealing with these guys coming in, if it happened next week that would be more of an issue," Howard said. "We really want the Test players to go back and play in the Shield and contribute to the competition and get themselves ready, and I think that process has been well dealt with in the last couple of days."
Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here