Watson required to fill Ponting void
If Shane Watson requires any reminder of the responsibility now thrust upon him, he need only look at the name of the cricketer he has replaced in Australia's ODI squad: Ricky Ponting. It was difficult to escape the symbolism of Watson's recall at Ponting's expense, as the spiritual leader of the team was replaced by a man who must show himself worthy as a senior figure in the dressing room as well as an allrounder.
John Inverarity, the national selector, had spoken with Watson in Perth this week as the Australia vice-captain made his first-class return via the Sheffield Shield. While emphasising that Watson's performance with the bat, ball and in the field would be his primary duty, Inverarity also acknowledged the gulf Ponting would leave in the dressing room, and the team-building qualities Watson needed to demonstrate on his recall.
"I've had a good chat with him," Inverarity told ESPNcricinfo. "His role in the team is to play very good cricket, batting, bowling and fielding. There is a gap in that regard [leadership] with Ricky not being in the side, and a gap that needs to be filled, and the senior players need to step up for that.
"[Ponting's] batting has been outstanding, his fielding's been brilliant and his captaincy record is outstanding as well. His contribution in the dressing room has been a feature of his contribution to the team. When he goes all four of those aspects need to be covered."
The plan for Watson's return to the ODI team will evolve over the course of this week. He has stayed on in Perth following the Shield match for New South Wales, and will train there before he flies to Hobart on Wednesday to join the squad ahead of Friday's match against Sri Lanka. Inverarity said there was a chance that Watson's return would be held back until Sunday's match against India in Sydney.
"Shane is inching his way towards full fitness," Inverarity said. "There's a squad of 13 and Shane is vice-captain of that squad. He may or may not play in Hobart. He'll go to Hobart on Wednesday and he'll practice hard with the team and in fielding drills, and he'll be in the embrace of the team, and it may be considered that it's better to keep him there and practising with the team and he plays in Sydney rather than Hobart. That decision is yet to be made, but those two options are open.
"He's inching towards full fitness and it might be in Sydney on Sunday because there is more work to do. Shane feels good that he got through the [Shield] game, and I thought he was better in his third spell of four overs than he was in his first spell. I thought he looked a bit freer then. Practising today, tomorrow, and Thursday, I think that gives him a nice run in."
In moving from NSW back to Australia, Watson will leave a Blues dressing room that has grown increasingly unhappy across the season. A wide selection of players on the fringes of the national side has not helped to foster a united team, as demonstrated by the innings and 323-run hiding administered to the Blues by Western Australia. Inverarity watched the match, and was not impressed by what he saw from Australian cricket's most populous state.
"New South Wales' performance in recent weeks has been very disappointing, and they've got a large player population," Inverarity said. "The national selection panel looks forward to NSW, with the talent they've got in their squad, coming to the fore and performing well and the individual players performing well. We want to see all six states with the teams thriving and we want to see players knocking down the selection door. In NSW there's a lot of talent and we want to see them performing."
Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here