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Watson's reinvention riddle for selectors

Daniel Brettig

January 7, 2013

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Shane Watson reacts after Mahela Jayawardene's dismissal, Australia v Sri Lanka, 1st Test, Hobart, 2nd day, December 15, 2012
Shane Watson has indicated that bowling won't be part of his package in the immediate future © Getty Images
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Shane Watson's ability to reinvent himself as a non-bowling top-order Test batsman may be tested by a return through the Sheffield Shield rather than the January ODIs.

The calf problem that ultimately dissuaded Watson from stretching himself at the bowling crease is likely to keep him out of action until the start of the limited overs-matches against West Indies in late January. This will leave John Inverarity's selection panel to decide whether to return him via that series or in a pair of Shield fixtures that will provide better indicators of the former allrounder's durability over four days ahead of the India Test tour.

The first group of players to India are expected to depart around February 9, while the final two ODIs against Darren Sammy's team are scheduled for February 8 in Sydney and February 10 in Melbourne. New South Wales' Shield games during the period will take place against Western Australia from January 24-27 and Tasmania from February 6-9.

Australia's coach Mickey Arthur said Watson was yet to formally indicate his desire to return as an opening batsman, but there can be little doubt about the vice-captain's preference given his best Test displays took place as an opener and occasionally-used bowler under Ricky Ponting, and his recent decision to give up bowling for the foreseeable future.

"I don't think Watto would mind me saying this, right at the moment Watto wants to come back as a batsman," Arthur said. "He feels every time he bats and then he gets injured bowling, he just loses a bit of momentum with his batting, which is probably fair to say. He wants to come back and bat, definitely. Once he feels his body is going well and that he feels he's cemented his batting position, we will then take another look at how we want to go with Shane in terms of bowling.

"And that's a decision only Watto can make. We'll be working very closely with him on that, because obviously Shane bowling a couple of overs is really good for us. And Shane Watson absolutely loves bowling. He still wants to bowl, but his primary focus right now is to make the team as an out-and-out batsman."

Arthur, Michael Clarke and the rest of the team hierarchy are satisfied with the present Test opening combination of David Warner and Ed Cowan, a partnership of contrasts that has reaped sturdy results even if Cowan has shown a tendency to get out after doing much of the hard work - something backed up by a mediocre average of 32.81 from 13 Tests. They also value Cowan's maturity, team ethic and leadership potential.

However Watson is expected to make a concerted push for his return to the role, hoping to open with Warner as he presently does, when fit, for Australia in ODIs and Twenty20 matches. "I guess if he's not bowling it's worth the consideration," Arthur said. "It will certainly be worth the chat. But we haven't had any discussions around that just yet.

"I still maintain that I felt No.4 was a really good fit for Shane Watson. But that was Shane Watson bowling some overs as well. We're lucky in that I think Watto can bat anywhere from Nos.1-6 in our order and has had some success there. He'll still be opening in one-day cricket. And who knows, maybe he does, maybe he doesn't but again it's probably too early to even discuss it."

Hard evidence for Watson's return to the opening position may be found in his overall record, for he has averaged better than 43 and made his only two Test centuries while walking out to face the new ball. Watson's powerful if mechanical strokeplay also appears best suited to a hard ball and a tightly packed field.

Nevertheless, his most recent returns under the captaincy of Clarke have indicated that if anything Watson has been of greater value as a thoughtful medium-pace bowler than an inconsistent batsman unable to reach three figures. In 11 Tests since Clarke took over as captain, Watson has made 528 runs at 26.40 with a top score of 88. He has also taken 19 wickets at 27. In five matches as an opener within that time Watson's returns dipped further, to 182 runs at 20.22.

These returns can be mitigated somewhat by the fact that under Clarke his level of bowling increased, occasionally leaving him bowling out the tail then walking immediately to the batting crease. But should Watson return to the top of the batting order it will be more out of the selectors' hope for more runs in his preferred position than expectation based on recent showings.

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

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© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

Posted by Shaggy076 on (January 10, 2013, 5:46 GMT)

Wefnishthis - Well Boyce has to be in front of Zampa but I dont think I would take him either. I dont believe in taking players along for the experience I would look to the players performing this year like Doolan, Fergusson and maybe Mcdonald. But young players Travis Head has played more shield games and done better than Patterson (and he is still under 19), However anyone has done more than Patterson. So Nevill as the spare wicket keeper, strangely NSW have been keeping with Haddin over Nevill - you would have thought you would take Haddin as a spare keeper. However Paine and Hartley at the moment would both be in front of Neville I would have thought. Witht he lack of shield cricket recently the young players are better off finishing the sheffield season than following the Australian team around India.

Posted by Wefinishthis on (January 10, 2013, 1:20 GMT)

Shaggy076 - Feel free to name a youngster from any other state that has to date either performed better or shown more justifiable potential in FC cricket than Patterson or Zampa. Boyce? Holland? Please educate us all who should go along for the experience instead, it would help your case a lot. I wouldn't want to take Nevill because he's a younger player, but because he's the next best keeper-batsman option other than Wade and he's a better batsman than Cowan and Watson as well. The other options Triffit, Paine and Hartley are ordinary batsman, roughly about Cowan's level. Their relative keeping ability is debatable.

Posted by potofazherbaizan on (January 9, 2013, 17:56 GMT)

Watson should think of test as ODI. With the defensive field, he can get things going nicely and can become the aggressive powerhouse as his potentials portray him. Imagine Warner and Watson, and a run rate over 6. They can take the entire match away in 1 session. He bowls very well to middle-order and should stick to that, giving him enough time to recuperate for the batting. I thing @Meety's featured comment; the team is spot on except I don't think Harris should play. Instead of him, get Starc/Pattinson/Bird and rotate the bowlers in India to avoid injuries and get them healthy for the Ashes. P.S. Australia whitewash India= Australia 2nd on ranking and within grasp of no. 1!

Posted by hycIass on (January 9, 2013, 10:50 GMT)

After a bit more thinking this is the team: 1. Watson; 2. Hughes; 3. Khawaja; 4. Burns; 5. Clarke; 6. Warner; 7. Wade; 8. Cutting; 9. Siddle; 10. Lyon; 11. Bird.

Posted by Shaggy076 on (January 9, 2013, 8:14 GMT)

Wefinishthis - The assumption you were a New SOuth Welshman is because you only know young NSW players ie I think Nevill, Patterson and Zampa are ridiculous selections. By the way Neville is 27 years of age.

Posted by Wefinishthis on (January 9, 2013, 7:34 GMT)

Shaggy076 - Firstly, Nevill has a career FC average over 43 and secondly, there haven't been all that many FC games in recent months so it's difficult to pick players on recent performances. You can't judge a batsman solely on their most recent performance, it has to be over several different conditions against different opposition. I mentioned bringing along Burns (career average over 42), Harris and Pattinson who aren't from NSW and not bringing along Starc (NSW) so I don't see how you came to a NSW bias conclusion. I was saying bring along the best young players for the overseas experience, it's unlikely they'd actually get a game. I don't care if the entire Aus team is Tasmanian, providing they're the best XI in the country, it just happens to be that NSW traditionally produces more quality players than the other states, which is a commonly known obeservation amongst experienced followers of cricket.

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Daniel Brettig Assistant editor Daniel Brettig had been a journalist for eight years when he joined ESPNcricinfo, but his fascination with cricket dates back to the early 1990s, when his dad helped him sneak into the family lounge room to watch the end of day-night World Series matches well past bedtime. Unapologetically passionate about indie music and the South Australian Redbacks, Daniel's chief cricketing achievement was to dismiss Wisden Almanack editor Lawrence Booth in the 2010 Ashes press match in Perth - a rare Australian victory that summer.
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