Injury scare for Shane Watson
Shane Watson has sent a major scare through Australia's Ashes planners only 19 days away from the first Test in Brisbane by pulling up with a hamstring injury during the final ODI against India in Bangalore.
Running in to deliver the first ball of his sixth over at the Chinnaswamy Stadium, Watson stopped sharply before completing his delivery stride and immediately left the field. He later batted at No. 8 in Australia's doomed chase and appeared to aggravate the injury while hitting a six during the course of his rapidfire 49.
"Shane encountered soreness in his left hamstring during last night's ODI in India," a Cricket Australia spokesman said. "He received initial treatment from team medical staff and showed that he was able to bat when needed. He will have the injury assessed in detail this week following his return to Australia. At that point we will have a clearer picture about his availability for the first Test."
Watson's innings was played in a fury after he was mocked by the Indian batsman Shikhar Dhawan, who mimicked a limping man after fielding a drive at mid off. The pair exchanged words subsequently and there were further angry scenes when Watson was dismissed, appearing to receive a send-off from several Indian players.
Though the seriousness of the problem is still to be assessed, hamstring problems have dogged Watson on numerous occasions throughout his career, often resulting in extended breaks from the game. He has missed major chunks of each of the past two home summers due to leg strains, and flirted with muscle problems during the Ashes series in England earlier this year though continuing to play.
Most of Australia's likely Test squad are building into form at home, but Watson, Brad Haddin, Mitchell Johnson, James Faulkner and the prospective No. 6 batsman George Bailey have all exerted themselves on the subcontinent. Concerns about Johnson's ability to transfer from limited-overs matches to the longer form of the game in time for the Ashes resulted in the team performance manager Pat Howard sending the left-arm seamer home before the final ODI in Bangalore, but Watson remained to play in the series decider.
Australia's medical and fitness staff may face a significant battle to ensure his fitness in time for the Gabba Test. Watson's availability will greatly affect the balance of the team, with the likes of Bailey, Faulkner and even the Tasmania No. 3 batsman Alex Doolan all possible inclusions should Watson be unfit.
"I don't want to sound biased, (because) I've played a lot with Jimmy, but I just can't speak highly enough of him," Bailey said of Faulkner. "I don't know how many games he's played of one-day cricket but he almost leads our bowling attack. He bowls in power plays. He bowls at the start. He bowls at the death. He loves that responsibility.
"I think we've just seen him come into his own with the bat as well with a bit of confidence. Teams will certainly fear him. It's just that energy he brings is wonderful. The competitiveness he brings is something you love playing with. He's got a pretty bright future."
Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here