England Lions v Australians, Worcester

Watson unlikely starter for first Test

Peter English at New Road

June 29, 2009

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Shane Watson was ruled out of Australia's warm-up match against Sussex but has been cleared of serious injury, Sussex v Australians, Hove, June 24, 2009
Shane Watson's thigh injury appears set to rule him out of the first Test © Getty Images
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Australia's top six will have few fears entering Wednesday's tour game in Worcester after Shane Watson was limited to walking around the ground during Monday's session at New Road. The allrounder Watson is the squad's spare batsman and is recovering from a minor thigh injury that ruled him out of the opening warm-up in Hove last week and will sideline him again for the final fixture before the Ashes.

For Watson to be considered for the first Test in Cardiff next week he must also offer the side some overs to help its balance, but this is highly unlikely after he was restricted to laps of the oval with the physiotherapist Alex Kountouris. While his fitness is improving to the point where he could bat this week, the Australians should allow their first-choice run-makers more fine-tuning during the four-day affair with the England Lions.

"Shane hasn't trained this week but he is doing all the right things," the vice-captain Michael Clarke said. "Hopefully he will be available for selection come the first Test. But I don't know how long he is out of training. He has had a lot of treatment for five or six days and things are certainly getting better for him."

Watson's injury is most timely for Marcus North, the No. 6 who entered the Test team in South Africa, where he played two matches. North scratched for 1 and 11 against Sussex and was the only touring batsman to miss out on a satisfying stay during the game, although he is becoming increasingly valuable as a spin option, especially with the offspinner Nathan Hauritz's struggles. Hauritz, the only specialist slow bowler in the squad, gave up 1 for 158 in 38 overs at Hove and will crave some success this week to remain in contention for Cardiff.

The Australians were joined at training on Monday by Mark Webber, the Formula 1 driver more suited to life in faster lanes than those offered in Worcester, a scenic stopover in the west of England. Webber had become famous in Australia for his consistency in not finishing races, but this year he has benefitted from a series of high-tech rule changes and sits fourth in the drivers' standings.

He went to school with the wicketkeeper Brad Haddin in Queanbeyan, a country town near Canberra, now lives in Buckinghamshire and watches the results of the cricketers during his travels. Webber spoke to the players who, while impressed with his three second-place finishes in 2009, will want to do much better against England over the next two months.

Peter English is the Australasia editor of Cricinfo

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