The Ashes 2009 May 20, 2009

Watson wins battle with Symonds

Shane Watson and Andrew Symonds are two large, strong men, and like a pair of gunslingers in a western movie, this town ain't big enough for them both. During the 2006-07 Ashes, Symonds shot back into Australia's Test team while Watson, his then Queensland team-mate and rival allrounder, was injured. Now it's Watson who has gained a place for the return tour of England at the expense of Symonds.

Australia's selectors faced a tough decision on which allrounders to include in their 16-man squad. Watson and the incumbent Andrew McDonald were preferred ahead of Symonds, who in the past year has twice been stood down from the team over behavioural issues.

It could mean the end of the Test road for Symonds, who turns 34 next month. But Watson was unequivocal when asked how he felt about shooting down his colleague's Test dreams.

"Good. It means I'm playing Test cricket and performing well," Watson said. "It's been an interesting battle between me and Andrew Symonds.

"Initially I got my opportunity in the [2006-07] Ashes and unfortunately I got injured and he made the most of that opportunity that he got and has been performing well over the last couple of years. But of recent times he hasn't helped himself in regards to what he's been doing and I've just got to make the most of the opportunity that's presented itself."

Watson has been chosen subject to fitness as he continues his recovery from a groin strain suffered during the series against Pakistan in the UAE, but he is not considered in any real doubt. Still, the latest injury was a setback for Watson, who had returned to the ODI side as a batsman only, having been diagnosed with back stress fractures during the home summer.

That ended an 11-month injury-free run for Watson - the longest such period since the opening couple of years of his first-class career. He drew immense confidence from stringing together a complete tour of India last October, when he played all four Tests, and it reconfirmed in his mind that he did not want to be pigeonholed as a limited-overs specialist.

"It was massive. Those ten or 11 months that I had from the IPL through the West Indies tour and then on to the India series as well gave me a massive amount of confidence to know that I can get through," he said. "There's been a few setbacks after that but it's just finding the perfect balance of what I'm trying to do.

"The opportunities that I had in the Test series in India just fuelled it even more to understand that Test cricket is the absolute ultimate in every single way. Mentally, technically and physically it pushes the boundaries so to be part of the biggest Test series for Australia is going to be so exciting."

The chairman of selectors Andrew Hilditch praised Watson's ability to bat anywhere in the top six and his quality fast bowling. Neither he nor the captain Ricky Ponting felt that Symonds' Test career was over, but that Watson was simply the better option for the balance of the team in England.

"I suppose Andrew Symonds and Shane Watson were competing for the same spot," Hilditch said. "I would class them both as batters who give us quality overs at their best, but on this occasion Shane has been preferred because in the selectors' view he adds great balance to the team.

"Shane was in extremely good form before his minor injury and in addition he gives us quality pace bowling and he's capable of batting anywhere in the top six. We think he's a very good selection for the Ashes tour."

But although Watson has edged out Symonds he will also be competing for a place in the starting XI with McDonald, who has played all of Australia's past four Tests. One rival has been outgunned, but another has sneaked into town.

Brydon Coverdale is a staff writer at Cricinfo

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