Australia v South Africa, 2nd Test, Adelaide November 21, 2012

Clarke insists Watson saga no distraction


Australia's captain Michael Clarke has denied the saga surrounding Shane Watson's futile attempt to be fit for the Adelaide Test is a distraction for the team as they attempt to claim a 1-0 lead in the series against South Africa. Watson was predictably ruled out on Wednesday morning after a series of fitness tests showed he was not yet close to full readiness for the rigours of a five-day match, even if he were to play as a batsman only.

Clarke's announcement of an unchanged Australian XI for the second Test ended any doubt in the mind of the No.3 batsman Rob Quiney, who took Watson's place in Brisbane but has spent three days in Adelaide unsure of whether he would be playing or not. David Warner, too, has not been entirely certain of his spot after the national selector John Inverarity refused to guarantee it when he named Watson in a 13-man group for Adelaide. However Clarke was adamant the episode had not affected his team's focus.

"I think the intent was great that Watto plus support staff, plus the team want him back out on the park, want him playing because we know how important he is to our group as a player," Clarke said. "I just think we've given Watto every chance and we feel, support staff, selectors and Shane as well, probably feels he's a few days short of being at his best. I don't think the speculation has had any impact on the team. The guys have all gone about their work as well as they can. Rob Quiney still did all his preparation, so I don't think it's had an effect on the team."

There have been rumblings for some time of various differences of opinion between Clarke and Watson, his vice-captain, most revolving around the allrounder's choice of preparation for Test assignments and the role he is to fulfil when on them. Clarke seemed intent on scotching this particular brand of chatter, damaging as it can be to have words circulating widely that the captain and his deputy speak with something less than the same voice.

"We have a great relationship firstly, I know there's been talk of that being a bit different, but Watto and I, our friendship and our professional relationship when it comes to captain and vice-captain is as close as I can certainly ask for," Clarke said. "We spoke daily, even before we flew to Adelaide as a team, and I was kept well and truly in the loop of where he was at preparation wise. Once we got here our intent was to give Watto every single chance as a very important player and vice-captain to play in this Test match, but unfortunately we've just run out of time.

"Watto sees himself as an allrounder, he wants to be an allrounder. He knows the impact he has in this game with both bat and ball and he's a huge part of our squad when he's doing both very well. Our plans are to try to get him to 100% as quick as we can, knowing we've got eight days now before the third Test in Perth."

The other major decision Clarke and his fellow selectors had to make revolved around the balance of the bowling attack. Ultimately Clarke settled on an unchanged quartet of Peter Siddle, James Pattinson, Ben Hilfenhaus and Nathan Lyon, leaving Mitchell Starc carrying the drinks in Adelaide but favoured to be included for the third Test in Perth.

Hilfenhaus had notable technical struggles in Brisbane, his arm low and his action not as precise as it had been when he was so successful last summer. But Clarke said he felt enough improvement from Hilfenhaus and his fellow pacemen as the Gabba Test unfolded to choose them again for Adelaide. Starc's control over the red ball is improving with every innings, but it was also reasoned that the steadier Hilfenhaus will be more capable of bowling maidens on request during stretches of the Adelaide match that may be devoid of assistance through the air or off the pitch.

"We had a lot of success last summer, there was rain in Brisbane but after day one I thought the bowlers came back really well," Clarke said. "We took 14 of the South African wickets and they only took five of ours. I think we've got a good mixture of aggression but also bowlers who can bowl long spells and dry runs up if required on that wicket. Generally at Adelaide there are periods of the game where you have to bowl quite tight. As a bowling unit throughout that whole first Test we improved and I'm confident as a team we'll be better for the hit-out in Brisbane and come out and perform better.

"There was certainly talk about Starcy coming into the XI, he's performed really well for NSW, he's been bowling beautifully in the shorter form of the game and in the nets as well. I just think we feel at the moment our attack improved as the game went on in Brisbane. There were a few nerves in on day one and it was our first game together as a team for quite a while, so I think everyone will be better for that."

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

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Andrew on November 22, 2012, 6:55 GMT

    @James Hoult - what you say is fair, but the point (I think) that Chris_P was making, was that Watto has NOT been our BEST player over that period. He has not really done anything in that period to give the NSP much confidence. He's injuries have definately played a part - no continuity!

  • Dummy4 on November 21, 2012, 23:31 GMT

    @RandyOz - Are you joking? Hilf has had one bad season (last Ashes) in an otherwise solid international career to date. He was our form bowler coming into this series and after one ordinary test match (in which he outperformed Steyn and Philander) you're calling him a "protected species"?

    @Chris_P - actually it was 2 test matches against South Africa and in one of those 4 innings our entire top order scored about 7. The West Indies series also produced a couple of pitches (2nd & 3rd tests) which were difficult to bat on vs the new ball, as other top order scores will show. Plus you're talking about a 12 month period where he has been in and out with injury.

    Why don't you look at the other Aus batsmen's averages over those 5 tests and then decide how badly Watto performed? Sometimes individual stats don't tell the whole story.

  • Mick on November 21, 2012, 22:21 GMT

    Its not as simple as whether Watson is in our top 6 batsmen. It's also about his fitness. Just because he says he is fit does not make it so - look at his injury record over the years. And for those desperate to find another controversy surrounding Clarke: Really?! You were wrong - oh so wrong - now get over it!!

  • Peter on November 21, 2012, 21:02 GMT

    @ScottStevo & Rahul_Ashok. The last 12 months has seen Watson score 353 runs @ 29.54. Against South Africa he scored 95 runs in 3 tests. What world does this constitute him being our "best" player" against fast bowling or deserving of a starting spot as a specialist batsman only? Read some statistics & be open minded.

  • ricky on November 21, 2012, 19:15 GMT

    I think Watson is a great batsmen who bats without fear and is a tough guy to dislodge once he gets in. He is an attacing batsman and best in the Australian team since last 5 years.

  • Kannan on November 21, 2012, 18:52 GMT

    It's funny how they dangle that carrot in front of Watto even now.. a couple of years ago, it was a problem that he wasn't going on to score high in ODIs after he gets 40 or 50 - and mind you, the ones who were saying this weren't even scoring 20 runs consistently in every game. Now he is in such prime form with his batting, and they use such worthless logic to keep him out. Many countries including Australia can benefit from just, Watto the bowler - yet all this stupidity continues on him being useful "only" as an allrounder. I can only imagine what this does to his confidence - hope it doesn't affect him too much.

  • Anthony on November 21, 2012, 18:01 GMT

    My question is, how long does it take a calf injury to heal? I've pulled calf muscles before and been back to running full pace in 2-3 weeks. And I didn't have the medical muscle of Cricket Australia behind me.

  • Prashant on November 21, 2012, 17:02 GMT

    Clarke's a great captain. If only he had the likes of Hayden, Gilchrist, Warne, McGrath at his disposal, the Aussie team would have continued to be invincible.

  • Dummy4 on November 21, 2012, 16:32 GMT

    I sincerely believe that Watto is a better batsman than half the Aussie batting lineup. Only Clarke, Ponting and Hussey are better. No idea why they will not play him. He is also one of those players who can turn a match around by some aggressive batting. @Aussie_fans is there a power struggle/politics between Clarke and Watto that is preventing his inclusion? Clarke for all his greatness as a batsman and captain is a huge politician and has ended several careers already.

  • david on November 21, 2012, 16:25 GMT

    not sure were the aussie hierarchy put watson as a stand alone batter. i would have thought myself on current form he could warrant batting in the top 6. so perhaps they are worried he can not field and his lack of mobility at the moment due to the injury so its a no brainer in selecting him.

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