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

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