Watson's Test recall not guaranteed
Michael Clarke has warned his vice-captain Shane Watson that he faces much stiffer competition for a place in Australia's Test team by choosing to play as a batsman rather than an allrounder.
Watson will return to international cricket in Wednesday's ODI against West Indies in Canberra, ahead of the four-Test tour of India, having spent a month out of the game due to a calf injury that he aggravated during the Boxing Day Test.
For the time being Watson has decided not to bowl, as it has typically been bowling that has caused his many injury problems over the years. He is desperate to enjoy a sustained run in the national team instead of constantly battling niggles. Although he hopes to be in a position to start bowling again ahead of this year's Ashes tour, Watson will for the time being need to justify his place as a batsman only.
"I don't think anybody walks into the Australian cricket team. It's about performance, and the strength of Shane is that he's performed over a period of time, in all three forms of the game," Clarke said. "He's vice-captain of the team and it will be great to have Watto back.
"As I've said to Watto, while he's not bowling he goes into a much bigger pool of players ... the pool of batsmen is much bigger than the pool of allrounders in Australian cricket at the moment. But Shane knows if he's at his best, he's as good as any player in the world, let alone in the Australian team. Our goal as a team is to help Watto get back to his best."
On Monday night in Melbourne, Watson was named the Twenty20 International Player of the Year at the Allan Border Medal ceremony, no surprise given his dominance with bat and ball at the World T20 in Sri Lanka last year. But it has also been an injury-plagued pair of summers for Watson, who missed all of the 2011-12 home Tests with calf and hamstring problems and managed only three of the six played this season.
His position in the batting order has also been variable: in November 2011 he was opening on the tour of South Africa, then he filled the No.3 spot for most of his appearances last year before slipping down into the No.4 space vacated by Ricky Ponting in December. Watson has spoken of his desire to return to the opening position in Test cricket at some point but he is aware that he needs to be happy with any spot available for him as a batsman only.
"At this point in time it is purely as a batsman and wherever I fit in," Watson said of his role in the Test side. "It's been something that I've been thinking about for a long period of time, especially over the last 12 months, when things haven't gone exactly to plan with my body. Hopefully I can just get some continuity with my batting over the next few months and then slowly build into getting some bowling under my belt.
"The perfect world for me would be making sure I'm able to bowl and contribute with the ball during the Ashes. I know that's looking a long way forward, but even just physically to be able to give myself a chance to get to that is a dream for me at the moment."
Over the course of Watson's career, he has played 38 Tests of a possible 89, the majority having been missed through injury, and his main goal now is to allow himself to pursue a period of stability. That begins with the remaining three ODIs against West Indies, his first matches back at the elite level after returning via grade cricket and a Ryobi Cup match for New South Wales last week.
"One of the hardest things about being injured is coming back and trying to find form as quick as you possibly can," Watson said. "Hopefully I can do that over the next couple of weeks leading into the Indian Test series. Then we'll see how things evolve from there. But I'm certainly not getting in front of myself because I know how quickly it can change.
"The times when I've had the most success playing for Australia has been when I've been able to play games back to back. That's been one of the most frustrating things about the past 12 months, it seems like a lot of the times when I've been playing I've been coming back from injury, which makes it difficult to be able to build some momentum and find some form and hold some form, which I've been able to do in the past."
Brydon Coverdale is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here