Watson ready to push himself
Shane Watson has bowled 71 first-class overs in the past year. Peter Siddle delivered nearly that many in the Adelaide Test alone. Watson has bowled with the red ball in only one match this summer - the Sheffield Shield game in which he broke down after four overs. Since the start of last season, he has sent down fewer first-class deliveries than Simon Katich. And yet Australia will rely heavily on Watson to ease the workload of the frontline fast men when the Perth Test starts on Friday.
It is easy to forget how little long-form cricket Watson has played in recent times. His presence around the squad, and his omnipresence in Twenty20s and one-dayers around the world never keep him away from a headline or a highlights package. But the decider against South Africa at the WACA will be Watson's first Test on home soil since the disastrous 2010-11 Ashes campaign. How his body will cope remains to be seen, but he is confident that his most recent calf injury is behind him.
"Over the last week I've been gradually building up my running and my bowling," Watson said in Perth on Wednesday. "I bowled six overs in the nets yesterday before we left in Adelaide so I'm certainly going to be up to bowling as many overs as Michael [Clarke] wants and probably the normal sort of workload really that I bowl in a Test match. Things have progressed really well over the past week so I'm ready to go."
He needs to be. The heavy burden shouldered by Siddle and Ben Hilfenhaus in Adelaide, where the loss of James Pattinson early in the match left Australia one bowler short, will make Clarke reluctant to ask too much of them, given the short break between games. Put simply, it is unlikely the Australians will have the luxury of easing Watson back in with one or two overs here or there, and despite his serious lack of red-ball bowling over the past year, he believes he is up to it.
"I understand that could be a possibility and at the moment that's the biggest challenge for Ben and Peter for their mammoth effort in second innings to be able to freshen up as quick as they can," he said. "I do understand there will be a possibility of me bowling as many overs as I need to, to be able to help the team hopefully win. But in the end my body is on the condition to be able to do it, so I'm certainly fresh over the past couple of weeks compared to some of the other guys that have been out there."
Fresh is one way of putting it. But the line between being fresh and underdone can be a thin one. That's something Watson has come to learn the hard way over the course of his career. Rushing back too soon from injury has cost Watson in the past, and he has had more time than most players to ponder the best balance for his game. Typically, bowling has caused or exacerbated his many injuries, even though his batting at the top of the order is his primary role within Australia's Test side.
The Adelaide Test marked an unwanted milestone for Watson: it was the 50th Test he had missed since his debut in 2005. Although he might have been left out of some of the early matches for reasons of form or team balance, the vast majority of his absences have been due to injury, and the numbers are staggering when compared with his batting team-mate Michael Hussey, who also debuted in 2005 and has played 75 Tests without missing one.
But despite the frequency with which he has been sidelined, Watson remains unwilling to consider himself a specialist batsman. In his own mind, he remains an allrounder, and it would take a drastic course of events for him to change his thinking - more drastic, that is, than missing more Tests than he plays.
"Not unless something goes very horribly wrong, I wouldn't want to give up on bowling," he said. "One part I love of the game - I know it puts more pressure on my body to be able to play consistently but it's something I just love so much and have loved doing since I was an allrounder since I was a young kid. The ultimate enjoyment for me is to play as an allrounder. Mentally the injury setbacks are frustrating at times, but it doesn't take away the love of being able to contribute with bat and ball."
Brydon Coverdale is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here