Watson return clouds Warner's future
Shane Watson's return to the Australian Test squad for Adelaide has ramped up pressure on David Warner to hold his spot at the top of the order, as the national selectors consider the possibility of pairing Rob Quiney with Ed Cowan.
While Watson is still considered unlikely to return in time for the second Test against South Africa, it is far from certain that Quiney will be the man to drop out of the hosts' XI to make room for the vice-captain and No. 3 batsman. Warner's place in the team may hinge in his display in Adelaide, and another brief stay with the bat would be likely to have Quiney walking out to bat with Cowan in Perth.
The national selector John Inverarity was unable to guarantee Warner's place ahead of the Adelaide Test, in marked contrast to his supportive words for Cowan before the Brisbane Test squad was even announced. "We'll make the decision closer to the time," Inverarity said. "I mean we're here at the WACA. Less than 12 months ago David played a wonderful innings here. We'll just have to wait and see."
Quiney made only nine in his one innings in Brisbane, but impressed the selectors with his gully fielding, part-time medium pace and an unruffled, mature demeanour that fitted neatly into the Australian dressing room. His upright, powerful batting would make a neat balance with the more obdurate Cowan, while offering a little more restraint than Warner.
Watson's preferred place in the team remains as an allrounder. Inverarity explained that if Watson was not fit to bowl, he would more than likely also not be fit to run swiftly between the wickets or show the required level of agility in the field. This, as much as the team's desire to have him bowling, will influence the selectors in their deliberations, which will likely reach a decision by Wednesday.
"Yes he could [play as a batsman]," Inverarity said. "He'll have to be fit to perform regarding running between the wickets, chasing in the field, diving. It's unlikely - I'm not saying it's not possible - but it's unlikely that he'll be able to build his workloads so that he'll be able to bowl in the Test.
"If you've got the continuum there, there's only a small margin in which he's fit to perform as a batsman but not able to bowl. We're hoping he'll be beyond that, he'll be able to bowl. But he may not be able to. And if he's not able to, there's a fair chance he won't be able to be fit to perform in terms of running between the wickets, chasing in the field, diving in the field. We'll just wait and see."
Mitchell Starc's chances of earning a place in the team for Adelaide have been enhanced by a four-wicket haul for New South Wales against Victoria at the SCG. Ben Hilfenhaus, the man considered most likely to make way for Starc, is working closely with the bowling coach Ali de Winter to try to eradicate the flaws picked up in his bowling action during the Gaba Test.
"I thought the bowlers bowled much better the second day they bowled, and then on the final day I thought they all improved again," Inverarity said. "So they're running into some form and you need to get some bowling under your belt and I thought in particular Ben Hilfenhaus got better as the game went on, so we'll just have to assess how they go and what sort of shape they're in and make a decision a couple of days before the Test."
Inverarity indicated that whichever bowler was 12th man in Adelaide would then be a probable inclusion for the third Test in Perth, given that only three days separate the end of the second match with the start of the final one. Australia played four quicks and omitted the spinner Nathan Lyon for the Perth match against India last summer, and that possibility will depend on the preparation of the surface.
"I think it's very difficult to go Brisbane, Adelaide and then a break of just a couple of days and then to Perth for the same bowlers to do all of that," Inverarity said. "It's not unlikely that a different bowler will come in for that Test and you would recall that last time in Perth we played four fast bowlers and we'll just have to wait and see what the wicket is like. The decision last year I think was the right decision and we'll have to wait and see what happens this year."
Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here