South Africa in Australia 2012-13 November 20, 2012

Watson's fitness test not a Test

Shane Watson chugged through a second fitness test in 24 hours at Adelaide Oval on Tuesday, trying his tender calf through jogging, running and near enough to sprinting over 30 minutes under the unblinking morning sun. Afterwards Australia's physio Alex Kountouris gave Watson a pat on the back: whether it was a gesture of encouragement or consolation was difficult to tell.

Whatever Kountouris and the team's recently appointed strength and conditioning coach David Bailey have in store for Watson between now and the start of the second Test on Thursday, nothing can provide an entirely solid indicator of how likely the vice-captain's calf is to flare again under the pressure of a five-day contest. Mindful of this, his fellow batsman Ricky Ponting stated bluntly that Watson should not play in Adelaide unless he is fully fit, no matter how his duties are modified by exempting him from bowling and stationing him permanently at slip.

"He'll have a certain criteria he'll have to pass, there'll be certain amount of running he'll have to do and things to do to prove he's right to play a Test match," Ponting said. "No-one can go into a Test match 70% fit, I don't care if you're a batsman and a slips fielder, if you can't bat at 100% then you're putting pressure on other blokes as well.

"Someone's got to run with him between the wickets, and I'm sure that'll be at the back of his mind, it'll certainly be at the back of the minds of the physios and doctors looking after him for the next couple of days. I've only seen him on what he's done in the nets over the last couple of days, I believe he did some extra running last night and today, but he'll make sure he's ticking all the boxes to be right to play the game."

Ponting has watched both this and last summer's Watson injury sagas from a somewhat less involved viewpoint than in the past, his ceding of the captaincy to Michael Clarke taking him out of the decision-making group that for this match includes Clarke, the coach Mickey Arthur and the selector on duty Rod Marsh, who will liaise with the national selector John Inverarity.

"It's not up for me to decide whether he should play or not, I have watched him train closely the last couple of days, he's getting through his batting fine, he's been a bit restricted with what he can do in the field, he's done his catching work and he'll be in slips if he plays anyway," Ponting said.

"Obviously the selectors and our coaches are going to give him as long as possible to prove his fitness or otherwise, but so far he seems confident in himself and with what's require of his batting at training, he's looked good in the nets. He can play as a batsman, yeah, he's just got to tick all the boxes he can tick and do the things he can do physically and then see what the selectors and captain and coach do from there."

As for whether the rest of the team harboured any impatience about Watson's fitness battles, Ponting said any such feelings were nothing next to the allrounder's own sense of an increasingly frustrated career. "It is what it is for us, I am sure it is more frustrating for Shane himself," Ponting said. "He is a very valued member of our side, anyone who can bat in the top order and bowl the way he can bowl is going to be missed in any team around the world.

"He is also our Test vice-captain and No. 3 batter so he's a vital part of our side, if we've got him that will be great, and if we don't we have to move on pretty quickly and if Rob Quiney gets another opportunity - he looked really good last week in his short stay at the crease and we are pretty confident he will do the job if he gets the chance to play."

Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here

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