Allrounder lined up to replace Symonds February 5, 2007

Watson's fitness gauged for finals

Cricinfo staff



Shane Watson's comeback from severe hamstring problems is ahead of schedule © Getty Images

Shane Watson's sudden rise from World Cup fringe player to essential member has forced Andrew Hilditch, the chairman of selectors, to consider whether he is fit enough to play in the finals of the tri-series. Andrew Symonds had surgery on his arm on Sunday morning and his extended absence leaves a huge hole for an allrouner and Watson, who has had severe trouble this season with a hamstring injury, is the most suitable replacement.

"The key thing for us is that [Watson] is fit for the World Cup, and we won't do anything to compromise that," Hilditch said in the Sydney Morning Herald. "But it's probably fair to say that at this stage he is going a bit better than was first thought. He has also bowled a few more overs than was planned."

Hilditch said he would get an update on Watson from the team doctor before picking the squad for the finals series starting in Melbourne on Friday. "The last time we spoke to his doctor, it was his preference that he target the Chappell-Hadlee series," Hilditch said. "He still hasn't played much cricket this season."

Symonds is likely to miss the World Cup after tearing a biceps in Friday's loss to England and Watson said it was a "sad to hear" of the injury. Watson was ruled out of the 2003 World Cup, where Symonds came of age, with back stress fractures.

"You never wish anyone injury, especially one of your good mates," Watson said in The Australian. "Getting more of an opportunity leading into the World Cup because a mate's got hurt is a sad irony."

Ian Chappell said on 3AW radio Symonds was the worst player a team could lose for a World Cup. "It brings Australia right back to the field," he said. "I think it's the fear factor he puts into the opposition.

"Not to decry Brad Hodge's batting, but you are not going to fear Brad Hodge the way you fear Andrew Symonds because Symonds can clear the boundary on a regular basis. He is going to create some run-outs for you. He'll take a blinding catch and he has been very, very tidy with the ball now for a long time. He gives you flexibility there."

Australia must name their World Cup squad by February 13 and Hilditch said he would talk with Ricky Ponting about the make-up of the outfit early this week. The low-key entry to the tournament gives Symonds extra time for recovery, but there are fears he will miss the entire event. Australia's opening game is against Scotland on March 14, but their first serious test will come against South Africa on March 24.