Australia v Sri Lanka, CB Series, Melbourne March 2, 2012

Clarke fit to play first final - Watson


Michael Clarke will play in the first final against Sri Lanka, according to Australia's stand-in captain Shane Watson. Australia lost to Sri Lanka by nine runs at the MCG in the absence of Clarke, who has had a back injury, but there were plenty of positives for the side as they enter a best-of-three finals campaign that starts at the Gabba on Sunday.

One of those plusses was the form of Watson, who enjoyed some valuable time in the middle and made 65 in his second match back after three months on the sidelines. Watson has captained Australia in the past two matches, for one win and one loss, but he said he was happy to be handing control back to Clarke for the business end of the tournament.

"Michael will be fit, which is great for a number of reasons," Watson said. "To have our captain back and also for me to hand the reins back is great. I've enjoyed it [captaining] but it's nice to be able to have him back."

Where Clarke will bat and who he will replace remains unclear, but what does seem likely is that Watson will stay at No.3 after David Warner and Matthew Wade were reunited as an opening combination at the MCG. Watson has been a long-term opener for Australia in the 50-over format but he said his move to first-drop could become permanent.

"At the moment that's the way things are being planned out, for me to bat at three, which I enjoy," he said. "It gives me a slightly different role compared to what I'm used to. I feel I've got the experience to be able to do a really good job there. It gives our openers that little bit more of a licence to be able to take the bowlers on with a bit more depth in our batting order. That's the way things are looking at the moment."

Watson's form was one of several encouraging signs for Australia in Friday's match. James Pattinson picked up four wickets in his first game back in the national side since the Sydney Test against India, and allrounder Daniel Christian claimed a hat-trick and took his first five-wicket haul for Australia. Christian has made a compelling case not to be the one to make way for the returning Clarke after a solid debut series.

"Throughout the whole series so far he's done some great things with both bat and ball," Watson said of Christian. "Up at the Gabba against India [his batting] was pretty special to watch, and then tonight, to get five wickets in a one-day international is a pretty hard task, only being able to bowl ten overs. He only bowled nine. I think that will give him a hell of a lot of confidence to know that he's certainly good enough to be able to be a high-quality allrounder in world cricket."

Another man who won't be in danger of losing his spot is David Hussey, whose run-a-ball 74 almost snatched victory from Sri Lanka's grasp. Hussey batted with power and poise, and is the leading run-scorer in the series with 412 at 82.40. At 34, this tournament loomed as his last chance to establish himself in the ODI side, and Hussey has grabbed that opportunity in impressive fashion.

"Dave has been absolutely brilliant throughout this whole summer," Watson said. "To be able to see how cleanly he hits the ball, I've seen it so much in domestic cricket, to see him put that consistently onto the international stage, is great for us. We just needed one guy to stick with him for that little bit longer [in Friday's match], because for him to even give us a chance like he did to win the game showed the quality of his innings."

Edited by Nikita Bastian

Brydon Coverdale is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Jeremy on March 3, 2012, 3:03 GMT

    Drop wade and warner, get haddin to open with watson and clarke at 4 with forest at 3.

  • Marty on March 3, 2012, 1:19 GMT

    I think the choice is easy drop McKay for Clarke. Watson and Christian can handle ten overs each with Doherty, Pattinson and Lee making the fifty. Throw in Clarke and D Hussey and there are plenty of bowling options. 1.Watson 2. Warner 3 Forrest 4 Clarke 5 M Hussey 6 D Hussey 7 Wade 8 Christian 9 Pattinson 10 Doherty 11 Lee. I think Binga is a number 11 nowadays but a a handy one at that. I would put Wade at 7 with this line up.

  • Shyam on March 3, 2012, 0:40 GMT

    Hmmm...good article but no mention of the actual batting spot up for grabs? I love Warner but he is more cold than hot at the moment - the last batting spot is going to be between him and Forrest. My team: 1 Warner/Watson, 2 Wade, 3 Watson/Forrest, 4 Clarke, 5 & 6 Hussey and Hussey, 7 Christian, 8 Lee (if fit, otherwise Starc by default), 9 McKay, 10 Doherty, 11 Big Hilf. The Lankans seems to be our bogey team int the group stage and are deserved warm favoutires for the finals but so were the SAffers in the 90's and we always knocked them off in the finals. Go Australia!

  • Nick on March 2, 2012, 23:08 GMT

    I'd like to see Mike Hussey open with Watson with Warner moving down to 3 and Wade in the middle order where he plays for Victoria. The team needs some stability at the top of the order. The Forrest experimentt is quickly losing momentum - another slow innings (2 off 9 balls). These slow innings are starting to hurt the team and replacing Forrest with Clarke is a no-brainer. That said, I do not know what the selector's expectations about Forrest were in the first place - his record leading up to international cricket was poor. He has raised his game at international level, but for my mind he gets bogged down too easily and puts pressure on the rest of the team in limited overs cricket.

  • John on March 2, 2012, 23:05 GMT

    Australia's "3W's" at the top f the order. Wade, Warner then Watson. Ghosts of the Windies past???

  • Vikram on March 2, 2012, 21:12 GMT

    If Watson, Christian, Clarke and David Hussey can bowl 30 overs among themselves, Doherty will be the one to be axed. If not, and I hate to say this, Mike Hussey seems to be the 'one'.

  • Dummy4 on March 2, 2012, 19:56 GMT

    Good match although SL were in control for pretty much most of it. Credit to DHussey for bringing Oz to within striking distance.

  • mukesh on March 2, 2012, 17:01 GMT

    Warner is the guy who should be making way , if performance is criterion..let watson return to opening in odi , warner however is a definite long term investment , tough decision for Australia to make... my prediction is peter forrest going out , which if you ask me is not fair to him..

  • Dummy4 on March 2, 2012, 16:09 GMT

    Forrest may miss out when Clarke comes back. Watson at No3 for ODIs, and Forrest at No3 for Tests, looks like the best possible post-Ponting scenario, for Aussies..

  • Doug on March 2, 2012, 16:00 GMT

    After all the experimenting with the team, I'm looking forward to seeing who Australia pick in the finals. I really hope Warner can concentrate and dig in enough to make 20 runs, after that he might be ok. I'm pleased Watson is happy to bat #3, I think he should do that in tests too, and leave Cowan and Warner to open.

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