Australia reluctant for Watson to stop bowling
Michael Clarke has not yet considered the possibility of cutting down Shane Watson's bowling workload when he returns to the Test side. Watson will miss the first Test against South Africa, starting at the Gabba on Friday, after injuring his calf while bowling for New South Wales in a Sheffield Shield match on Saturday, and it is far from the first time Watson has hurt himself while bowling.
He missed all of Australia's home Tests last summer after suffering a hamstring injury while bowling in the Johannesburg Test in November - a calf complaint also arose during the summer - and often struggled with his dual batting and bowling roles earlier in his career. Watson, 31, has always declared himself an allrounder and insisted that he wants to keep bowling. Australia will need to consider how best to use him over the coming years.
They could look to the example of Steve Waugh, who began his career as an allrounder and often bowled more than 20 overs in a Test innings, but once he reached his thirties his body struggled to handle the workload and he scaled back his bowling significantly. Notably, around the time Waugh cut back on his bowling his Test batting average was 43; by the end of his career it had risen to 51.
"We'll worry about that if we have to. Shane sees himself as an allrounder. I haven't heard any different at this stage," Clarke said in Brisbane ahead of the first Test. "I'm pretty sure he wants to come back as an allrounder and we've selected him through his career as an allrounder.
"There have been games where he hasn't been selected because he hasn't been able to bowl. If he's fit to do both, then he'll do both. If he's not, the selectors will sit down and work out if we're going to select him just as a batsman."
For the time being, Australia are not willing to choose Watson for his batting alone. Although Watson consistently makes starts and has passed 50 on 20 occasions in Test cricket, only twice has he gone on to turn those into hundreds. Australia's coach, Mickey Arthur, is also keen for Watson to return as an allrounder, rather than confining himself to a batting role.
"Shane's got a massive amount to offer in two disciplines," Arthur said on Inside Cricket on Monday. "It's a blow not to have him because he's two cricketers in one. Shane's still got a long career ahead of him, batting and bowling."
Whether that career includes this series against South Africa remains to be seen, although he has more than two weeks to prove his fitness before the second Test in Adelaide. Australia called Rob Quiney in for this Test and Arthur said the selection panel had been keen to replace Watson with the man they considered the next best batsman, rather than another allrounder such as Andrew McDonald.
"There was [consideration of another allrounder], we had a look at all the scenarios," Arthur said. "As a panel we were very keen on picking what we thought was our best top-six batters. I think that's really important, especially against a good bowling attack, we wanted to pick our best top six. Then we look down the line at what our best four bowlers are to get us 20 wickets. We've gone down the old fashioned route of picking six batters, four bowlers and a keeper."
That balance could present some on-field challenges for Clarke, who might need to rely on his part-timers more heavily than he would have liked. It was notable that at training on Tuesday, Quiney and Michael Hussey were both sending down medium-pacers in the nets. Quiney's outswingers have earned him three first-class wickets - he took 2 for 22 the first time he bowled in a first-class match - and Clarke will consider using him if required at the Gabba.
"We've seen in the past that I've got some overs out of Michael Hussey. Rob Quiney will be no different," Clarke said. "And if there's a bit of spin, I can bowl as well. We've still got the options there. Whether you've got an allrounder in your team or not, you always rely on your main four bowlers and then you use your part-timers as you see fit. Hopefully our frontline bowlers can do the job. But if there's a role for a part-timer to play, they'll certainly get that opportunity."
Brydon Coverdale is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here