South Africa in Australia 2012-13 October 19, 2012

Watson backs Haddin, Starc for Tests

Shane Watson believes Brad Haddin is "mentally and technically ready to go," should he be chosen as Australia's wicketkeeper for the upcoming Test series against South Africa. Michael Clarke, Australia's captain, has insisted that no decision has been made on whether Haddin could reclaim the Test berth he vacated for personal reasons during the tour of West Indies earlier this year, and Haddin faces competition from Matthew Wade for the spot.

"He's definitely mentally and technically ready to go if that opportunity does come for him in that first Test," Watson said on the eve of his departure from South Africa, where he has been playing for Sydney Sixers in the Champions League T20. "I have my fingers crossed for him, and I certainly think he deserves a chance to be able to take on the South Africans."

Haddin is captaining a Sixers side that has been dominant in the tournament, with wins over Chennai Super Kings, Yorkshire and Highveld Lions. His own contribution has been steady, with consistent runs in the middle order and seven catches behind the stumps.

"If you saw the way he batted today even, his game looks in great order," Watson said. "I think his batting alone looked brilliant. You can really tell even in his set up whether he's going really good. He's in some serious touch at the moment. And as he always does he keeps very well."

Apart from the undecided wicketkeeping spot, Australia also have a full stable of fast bowlers from which to choose ahead of the first Test, expected to be played upon a green, bouncy Gabba pitch. Watson suggested his Sixers team-mate Mitchell Starc, who has four Tests under his belt but isn't yet at the top of the pecking order in the format, would be a valuable addition to the bowling line up.

"There's no doubt that having a left-armer who bowls 140kph and swings the ball back in with a bit of bounce at the Gabba and in Perth as well will certainly be a huge asset for our team," Watson said. "He should be [in the team]."

Starc had a successful stint with Yorkshire in the Northern summer, picking up seven first-class wickets at 21.85 in two matches to go with eight scalps in the Clydesdale Bank 40. He was also their leading wicket-taker in the Friends Life T20 competition, with 21 at an average of 10.38 and an economy rate under a-run-a-ball. Starc was an effective spearhead in Australia's World Twenty20 campaign, and has continued to take wickets, with nine so far at the Champions League.

"The way he's bowling, he's certainly doing everything he possibly can to give himself the best chance," added Watson. "He's bowling beautifully, and he showed in the T20 World Cup how well he's bowling as well, against world class players with a brand new ball. That's just about as hard a time that you can bowl, because you've got world class opening batsmen trying to take you down in the first six overs."

Watson was called home by Cricket Australia to prepare for South Africa's visit, but Starc won't be following him and is expected to play a leading role in the remainder of the Sixers' campaign, as his side have all but secured a spot in the semi-finals. Indeed, Starc suggested he doesn't need a rest because his workload is lower than that of an allrounder such as Watson in Twenty20s and his time would be better spent bowling in matches, albeit Twenty20s, than training in the nets in Australia.

"It's a bit different with me, I'm only a bowler," Starc said. "Watto's got to open the batting and come in and bowl through the innings as well. Watto's obviously had a lot years to work out what's working for him. What worked for me in England was playing a lot of games back to back and I've probably carried that through, playing as much as I can and tinkering with a few little things and getting things right. Even if I did go home I'd have to keep bowling as well, so I'd rather do that in games than in the nets.

"But James Pattinson is back home bowling with a red ball, and I'll have to do some red ball work over here as well. If I can just keep bowling as well as I can and taking wickets, that's all I can do, and try and force my way in."

The apparent speed with which the decision to call Watson home was made annoyed Sydney Sixers general manager Stuart Clark. Cricket Australia's team performance manager, Pat Howard, agreed the final decision hadn't been made until very recently, but Watson suggested that the possibility of a clash between the Champions League and preparations for South Africa's visit had been discussed for the past six months or so.

"There's been a bit of talk, and it wasn't just about me, it was also about other people who were playing in the Champions League leading into the summer, and the talk's been going on for the last probably six months really," Watson said. "In the end you've got to make the most of the time you do have to train, and give yourself - especially with my history - the best chance physically of being ready as well.

"It's just about trying to get the best balance you possibly can, and Cricket Australia and Pat Howard and the medical staff thought it was the best way to go, and having a week to freshen up means I should be raring to go."

Liam Brickhill is a freelance journalist based in Cape Town

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