Commonwealth Bank Series 2011-12 February 20, 2012

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

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  • Andrew on February 23, 2012, 0:03 GMT

    @zenboomerang - nice drop in on another string, but the point I was making is that it was NOT unheard of to have an opener of Wattos record in Tests. None of the batsmen mentioned were failures, they were more a product of tougher times for openers as most were combatants against the WIndies pace battery. You mention that Stackpole was a good opener, yet Watto has a higher average, my stats referred to instance when the batsmen opened. So Watto is not 1 in 29, rather 22.5, assuming that "cherry-picking" can go both ways. Whether Watson is a good or poor opener is very much for debate an average of 43, puts him marginally below the likes of Mark taylor or Slater, or Greenidge & ahead of Atherton, Haynes, or Strauss - ALL of those players have been regarded as good or great openers. So I would say that "cherry picking" would be to bang on about a 100s per innings without considering a historically world class ave as an opener!

  • jake on February 22, 2012, 11:45 GMT

    You've been warned watto!

  • Roo on February 22, 2012, 5:06 GMT

    If Watson is fit, I'd like to see Watson/Wade open, with Warner, Clarke, M Huss, D Huss, Christian, Lee, Harris, Hilfenhaus, Doherty... Benching McKay, Forrest... Forrest can't replace Christian as it weakens the bowling attack - Watson still isn't up to ODI fitness which is physically more stressing than Test/4 Day cricket... It also breaks up the lefthanders with righties making the bowling a little more difficult... Can't see Hilfy being dropped for the last 3 games & finals... Time to put the foot down...

  • Roo on February 22, 2012, 5:03 GMT

    @mthw... Although I take jonesy2's comments with a big grain of salt - he is correct in regarding Watson as the best ODI player in the world in recent years... Where does Oz sit in the world rakings - No.1 for the last few years & much of that success has come from Watson's allrounder ability... He hasn't played ODI for a while but still ranks no.5 batting & no.40 bowling - Kallis is no.11 batting & no.51 bowling... Currently Watson in ranked no.2 as an allrounder & Kallis is no.5 ... I think you can work out who is the better ODI player :) ...

  • Roo on February 22, 2012, 4:47 GMT

    @Eight8... Agree that gregjones was a bit harsh - Watson when 100% fit has been 1 of the best ODI players in the world... With only 3 games before the finals, I would expect him to get runs or miss out... His first 12 Tests as an opener ave 47 while in the last 12 mths it is just 20... Definitely not a Test quality opener with 2 100's in 58 innings... By far his best attribute has been his bowling which makes him an allrounder at no. 6-7... Pattinson has an ave of 29 batting at no.9 & Siddle looking strong, so we now have a good late middle order/tail...

  • Roo on February 22, 2012, 4:45 GMT

    @Meety... Cherrypicking samples again & trying to skew it... lol... Except for Stackpole none of your picks are remembered as good openers & some as abject failures - are you saying that Watto is up there with some of our worse openers?... Your point?... Stackie got 4 more centuries than Watto in only 6 more innings - Stackie 1 in 10.6 innings... Watson 1 in 29... Your point?... Don't agree with gregjones comment about being the worst in history - though perhaps he was referring to recent history which should have been his point...

  • Matt on February 21, 2012, 10:22 GMT

    Haha @jonesy2... "the best allrounder on the planet for the past few years"... There is a guy from Sth Africa called Kallis if you hadn't heard, that I think has a geniune arguement to be called best all rounder ever... Much prefer him in my team... Watson would be a much better all rounder if he drops down to bat 4-6 in tests.. He doesn't need to be opening in any format, when aussies now have openers for both...

  • Tahir on February 21, 2012, 7:24 GMT

    Watson's inclusion will add insult to injury for CB series opponents who are (specially india) already struggling. His exclusion so far gave aussies to try a lot of bench strength and equation will be very interesting after his inclusion.

  • rob on February 21, 2012, 7:14 GMT

    Gotta agree with Eight8. Watson has been our best one day cricketer for a while now. Besides, I was always under the impression that at as soon as he proved his fitness he was back in the side. I thought it was pretty much a given. .. Watto isn't Gary Sobers or Ian Botham, but he is still a very good cricketer and the best all rounder we've had in years. .. having said that I can't see him replacing Ricky Ponting on a like for like basis . ..completely different characters and skill sets. .. Punter was one of the absolute greatest players the game has seen in its 140 years. You can't replace that, you can only do your best until the next genius comes along. I think even Watto would agree that he is not that player but he still brings something good to the team.

  • Andrew on February 21, 2012, 4:38 GMT

    @Eight8 - well said. @gregjones - several things - firstly, as an opener Watto has batted 45 times NOT 60 & has an ave of 43. As far as being "That is unheard of for an opener in Australian test history." Try these names & stats - Stackpole 64 inns, 6 tons @ 40; Dyson 45 inns, 2 tons @26; Wood 92 inns, 8 tons @ 33; Blewett 22 inns, 0 tons @ 29; Laird 40 inns, 0 tons @35; Elliott 29 inns, 3 tons @ 35. These are just modern examples, there are plenty of other openers that have less of a record than Watto's. Yes he needs to convert his starts more, but he has been consistant to achieve an ave of almost 44 as an opener. As far as McKay is concerned, he is on track to become the fastest Ozzy to 50 ODI wickets & his S/R is world class.

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