Watson axed as Australia weigh up options
In the past ten years Australian teams have almost picked themselves, but as Ricky Ponting realises the damage caused by the loss of a clutch of greats he is changing his outlook and adopting a more flexible approach to selection. The method started in Brisbane, where the 12-wicket debutant Jason Krejza was dropped, and will continue in Adelaide as a way of discovering which men can be depended on in specific conditions.
So Australia fly south-west expecting the wicket to assist reverse-swing and the only thing they know is they don't have to worry about fitting in the allrounder Shane Watson, who was cut from the squad and replaced by Peter Siddle, the right-arm fast bowler. It eases the options for Ponting, who had spoken about picking only two pacemen for the second Test - or dropping a batsman - and supplementing the attack with Watson's improving bowling.
Even though it was a move quashed quickly by Andrew Hilditch, Ponting's willingness to discuss upsetting traditional thoughts means there are fewer certainties in a team that is used to them. "I just think we've got to be a bit more flexible on our selection in different places," Ponting said. "We need to look at every way you can to have the most impact.
"They're some of the lessons we all learned in India. We could have been better equipped for those conditions and if we come up against conditions like that, in Australia or the world, we need to have guys who can play well in them."
Usually in Australia there is a slight debate over which bowler to choose or whether the form batsman in the Sheffield Shield should come in. When the players reconvene in Adelaide on Tuesday night there will be a lot of team management discussions. Could Siddle come in for Brett Lee, who took his 300th Test wicket at the Gabba, if Australia pick only three pace bowlers? How long can Matthew Hayden and Brad Haddin carry on? Will Andrew Symonds stay ahead of Watson, who will play for Queensland instead, after his muted return? And is Krejza really Australia's spin answer?
Nothing will probably change and Siddle will be 12th man, but the fact so many debates are occurring lead some Australians to feel like they are suddenly following England outfits of the 1990s. "We've got a decision to make, or maybe a few decisions to make, on our team for Adelaide," Ponting said. "Once again we've got to be a bit more specific with the way we pick our teams now. We've really got to pick horses for courses with our selections."
It is a way of developing for the future following the exits of Shane Warne, Glenn McGrath et al and learning from the struggles of India, where the team realised it was no longer a dominator. The 149-run win over New Zealand turned out well, but it is the warm-up for two tougher series against South Africa ahead of the 2009 Ashes.
"It's no good a lot of the time going on tours carrying around 14 or 15 blokes and not seeing how they go," Ponting said. "Especially with some of the cricket coming up, we've got South Africa here at the WACA, which will be a good place for the swing and quick bowlers, and then we've got Melbourne and Sydney, which will be the other way. Then we take them on over there on wickets which, we saw last time, seamed all over the place.
"We have to start looking at the guys who are going to be suited to those conditions and even look ahead to England as well. We're going to need people over there who can swing the ball and stand the seam up and do that all the time. That's what I'm talking about with those selection things."
Mitchell Johnson is one player who has continued to develop and shown he can break through in a variety of conditions. After leading the list in India, Johnson captured a career-best 9 for 69, including his maiden five-wicket haul, to end the contest on Sunday.
"He is doing everything right at the moment," Ponting said. "He continues to work on things. He's done as well as any of our bowlers over the last 12 or 18 months, but he's the first one to go and have a look at video footage, whether it's his wrist or his action or whatever. He is always trying to find ways to improve."
Johnson was nervous in the opening stages of the first innings but came back to take 4 for 30, and captured three wickets on the final morning, finishing the game by knocking over Chris Martin. "I felt that I'm bowling really well," he said, "and I'm happy with the way I'm going and hopefully keep improving."
Australia 2nd Test squad Matthew Hayden, Simon Katich, Ricky Ponting (capt), Michael Hussey, Michael Clarke, Andrew Symonds, Brad Haddin (wk), Brett Lee, Jason Krejza, Mitchell Johnson, Stuart Clark, Peter Siddle.
Peter English is the Australasia editor of Cricinfo