Australia v Sri Lanka, CB Series, 1st final, Brisbane March 3, 2012

Whose place will Clarke take?

It can be seen as a sign of strength that none of the Australians who played the last league game merits a drop, but you would love for things to be clearer a day before the final

Australia's defeat to Sri Lanka in Melbourne has left them not only facing a side that has now beaten them in three successive games, but also given them a selection headache: whose place does the returning captain Michael Clarke take? It can be seen as a sign of strength that none of the XI who played that game merits a drop, but you would love for things to be clearer a day before the final. Australia landed in Brisbane during an afternoon shower, and the tight schedule - there's only a day's gap between the finals - means there is no training day to perhaps assess in the nets how the candidates for the drop are going.

It has been an interesting series for Australia. The sheer duration of it demanded a fair bit of rotation of players, but injuries to Clarke and Brett Lee have brought in a bigger pool of players than they would have perhaps wanted. They have also sacked Ricky Ponting, who captained Australia to a win in his last match, midway during the series. Ryan Harris is out, Ben Hilfenhaus is back as an ODI bowler. Shane Watson is back too, and is bowling as well.

In the middle of all that, Clarke went out with a sore back, and has come back to find out that while he should be playing the final two or three games of the summer, the tough decision is his too, along with the other selectors'. Going purely by statistics, David Warner should be the man to sit out, with Watson moving up the order to open with Wade. Selection decisions, however, are not made on statistics alone. Warner showed enough glimpses of how he can play above the game when he scored an imperious 68 out of 107 while he was at the crease on a tacky SCG surface, against India. He can win matches single-handedly, and that's what makes it difficult to leave him out of a big match.

"He is that kind of player, isn't he?" Daniel Christian said on the eve of the final, agreeing with the sentiment. "He is a match-winner, and I am sure he will get it together in the final series. He has had a pretty good summer. Good 70 [68] in the last game at the SCG. He is not far away from a big score."

Going by playing style, Clarke is a like-for-like replacement for Forrest, but Forrest is Australia's only centurion of the tournament. His debut, when he scored 66 against India, had been impressive. He is an organised player, equally at ease against pace and spin. His assured debut was the reason Australia could go ahead and drop Ponting, and it will be fair to say they haven't missed Ponting sorely since.

The Hussey brothers remain important to the side, Michael through experience and David through form, which is why Forrest would have loved to convert more than one of his starts into a big one. "I think we have been a little bit inconsistent so far in this series," Christian said. "Batting probably hasn't quite clicked the way we'd like it to. But we know all our batters are in good nick, it's just a case of us all getting it together on the day."

Precisely because none of the batsmen have been entirely reliable, Watson's batting should keep him in even though he has played only two games on return - with a half-century in Melbourne - so far. Like Warner, Watson too can win a match on his own. It is difficult to keep these players out. That should have put the pressure on Christian. And he responded with a hat-trick and a five-for in his last outing. That ought to be enough to keep him in, but Christian is not sure yet.

However, Christian did say that he and Watson in the same XI aren't one allrounder too many. "I don't see why we both can't play in the same team," Christian said. "The more the bowling options the better, I think. Obviously I need to be scoring runs as well. I am not there as a bowler, I am there as an allrounder. Last night [in Melbourne, with the bat] I missed out. Hopefully I'll get something in the next couple of games."

If Christian is to miss out because Watson brings something extra to a batting line-up that hasn't been a million dollars, he will live. "Watto is a fantastic player," Christian said. "He has shown it over a number of years. If I lose my spot to him, that's the way it goes. As I said, there is definitely room for both of us to play in the same side. Hopefully the selectors [think] the same way."

Apart from these candidates, a left-field choice could be Clint McKay, as Watson does bring with him the ability to bowl yorkers at the death. But Australia, traditionally, don't like going into a game weak on the bowling front. If McKay were to be dropped, that would leave Watson, Christian and David Hussey 20 overs to bowl between them.

Whatever way he and the selectors go, Clarke's is not an entirely enviable position to be in. Once he decides whom he replaces, he will have to find a corresponding man for Lee: Hilfenhaus has been impressive and had taken a five-for on return, while James Pattinson took four wickets, also on return, in the last game.

Edited by Nikita Bastian

Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo

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