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February 17, 2013
Shane Watson may opening the batting in the first Test in Chennai with Ed Cowan after the national selector John Inverarity revealed significant concerns about David Warner's recovery from a fractured thumb five days before the first Test.
Warner is yet to face anything more demanding than throw-downs since his arrival in India, following a broken thumb inflicted by Mitchell Johnson in the WACA ground nets that kept him out of the ODIs against the West Indies. The captain, Michael Clarke has trained freely enough in the latter stages of his recovery from a hamstring strain and is not in any doubt, but Warner's thumb must improve over the next few days to ensure he is fit for the first Test.
Watson thinks he will bat at No. 4
"David's thumb has improved in the last couple of days, he wasn't fit enough to play in this game, he had some throw-downs yesterday with a cricket ball, and we're hoping his fitness improves a great deal in the next couple of days so he comes into contention," Inverarity told ABC Radio. "We won't make a decision on that until a few days out from the Test.
"There is some concern with David because he hasn't been able to practice, but Michael had an hour's batting in the nets yesterday and he played beautifully, so I'd say there are very few concerns around Michael because of his experience and the fact he was able to practice."
The injury-enforced absence of Warner would be a major blow to the tourists but, at the same time, a temporary way around the vexing issue of where Watson should bat on his return to the Test side as a non-bowling member of the team.
Numerous influential voices, including those of Ian Chappell and Brett Lee, have been raised in recent days to argue that Cowan should be dropped to make way for Watson. But Clarke and the rest of the selectors have valued Cowan's steady hand at the top, and Matthew Hayden has been one advocate of the left-hander's retention despite a run of scores that have been handy rather than outstanding.
Glenn Maxwells's prospects of a Test match debut in Chennai also rose when Inverarity hinted strongly at the use of three fast bowlers, one spinner and a slow bowling allrounder. As the Australians struggled to dismiss India A in their warmup match, Inverarity said the tourists were still leaning towards a heavy reliance on pace despite the surface at Chennai's Chidambaram Stadium appearing likely to spin sharply.
"The wicket for the Test match is already prepared. We could've played on it today, we could have played on it yesterday or the day before," Inverarity said. "There is not one blade of grass, so you'd suggest it is a wicket for spinners. But with our Australian team I think the strength lies more with the pace bowlers than with the spinners.
"We've got the option of playing two pace bowlers and two spinners, but it'd more likely that we'd go in with three pace bowlers and one spinner, plus some spin support. I don't think it's clouded. We know what we're going to do. The Indian players, of course, are very good players of spin. Yesterday, our spinners didn't bowl well and the Indian batsmen took heavy toll of them, but we're fairly clear in regards what we're going to do in terms of spin bowling in the first Test match."
Maxwell was left out of the team to play in the tourists' final preparatory fixture, but has been groomed for a role in India for more than a month, since he was 12th man in the third Test against Sri Lanka at the SCG. While his offspin has shown signs of improvement across the ODIs against Sri Lanka and the West Indies, Maxwell's batting has been less convincing as a Test match proposition.
Steve Smith is the other notional option as a middle order batsman and spin bowler, though his leg breaks were treated harshly in the tour opener.
Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets hereFeeds: Daniel Brettig
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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