Watson surplus to series unless he can bowl
Shane Watson is an increasingly doubtful starter for the second Test in Adelaide after the team performance manager Pat Howard stated he would be surplus to Australia's requirements against South Africa unless he can prove himself fit enough to bowl.
In the most blunt declaration yet that Watson needs to retain his allrounder status in order to remain an integral part of Australia's planning, Howard stated that John Inverarity's selection panel had placed great store in the ability of batsmen to bowl, particularly when faced with a batting line-up as deep as South Africa's.
The selectors are currently discussing the composition of their squad for the Adelaide Test ahead of a likely announcement on Friday, and Watson cannot be expected to be considered unless he proves himself capable of bowling plenty of overs in the second match of the series.
Watson is understood to be thinking conservatively about returning to the bowling crease, making the Perth Test or even the Sri Lanka series that follows the South Africa Tests more likely avenues for his international return.
"Shane is progressing, if the Test match was tomorrow he wouldn't be playing, but he's progressing and I think when the team goes in on Sunday we'll have a far better indication of where he's at," Howard said in Brisbane.
"For different series there are different policies, there's a position the selection panel take. There are times over the past 12 months where he has been considered in both roles and sometimes as a batsman only, but very much at Adelaide they're looking to his bowling and his fitness around bowling, to see if he's capable of doing both.
"As you saw during the Test match the other day, a fair few bowlers were called on, and Shane's value to be able to do both is pretty strong. It would go against him significantly [if he can't bowl]."
In seeking to assess Watson's fitness, Cricket Australia had considered making him available to play for New South Wales in a domestic limited overs match against Victoria at North Sydney Oval on Sunday, but that possibility now appears remote. Instead Watson will need to show his ability to bowl in the nets, before following up with further training spells in Adelaide.
"The value and the balance of the team is what the selection panel talk about, it's the panel's call on how they come together on this," Howard said. "They assess all of that, the value of it, I know John Inverarity looks very much at what is our ability to bowl lots and lots of overs.
"We were in a pretty unique position the other day when Rob Quiney bowled for us and doesn't bowl for Victoria, so the ability for people to take up some bowling slack credibly is important. Without making it a Shane Watson conversation, the ability to take overs up was pretty well demonstrated in the first Test."
Mitchell Starc and Josh Hazlewood can again be expected to be part of the team in Adelaide, even if the selectors choose not to change the bowling line-up that looked far more threatening in the second innings of the Brisbane Test than the first. Starc and Hazlewood are currently bowling for NSW against the Bushrangers in a Sheffield Shield fixture at the SCG.
"We had a fair few bowlers around the squad in the lead-up to the Test," Howard said. "Josh Hazlewood was there as well as Mitchell, so we're very much making sure guys are ingrained in the squad. We did that all last year, so we want that extra bowler around to get involved in the culture, and to make sure they're ready to do the job required."
Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here