Watson to be Australia's No. 4
Shane Watson has confirmed that he will bat at No.4 in the first Test against India in Chennai if, as expected, David Warner is fit to play. Watson opened in the warm-up match against India A and scored 84 and 60, but his presence at the top was only due to Warner's ongoing recovery from a fractured thumb, and he will move down the order to allow Warner and Ed Cowan to resume their opening combination.
It would have been a big call to split the successful Warner-Cowan partnership, especially given that Watson is hoping to be able to bowl during the Ashes later this year. Part of the reason for shifting him down the order was to allow him to balance his batting and bowling workloads and while that is not an issue on this trip, where Watson will play only as a batsman, if all goes well it will again be a factor during the Ashes.
"If everyone is fit, it's looking like that's most probably going to be the way the selectors and Michael [Clarke] and Mickey [Arthur] go," Watson said in Chennai on Tuesday. "With the continuity of what's happened over the last 12 months especially, I can definitely see why they want to go that way.
"I've got as much experience as anyone, whether batting in the middle order or at the top of the order. Myself and Michael are going to be very important parts in this series for us as a batting unit in that middle order because it can be very difficult to start. But we're as well equipped as anyone to be able to get through it."
It means that with Warner, Cowan and Phillip Hughes occupying the top three spots, Australia's two most experienced batsmen will come in at Nos.4 and 5, likely to be followed by Matthew Wade at No.6 and an allrounder, either Moises Henriques or Glenn Maxwell. The middle-order role means Watson will have plenty of work to do against India's spin attack, which could feature three men on a turning pitch in Chennai.
But England's success against Pragyan Ojha, R Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja and Harbhajan Singh late last year has highlighted that the spinners are not infallible in their home conditions. Coming in against spin on a turning pitch is one of the toughest challenges for a Test batsman, but Watson said it was important to take note of the way England's batsmen made use of their starts in the recent series.
"England certainly showed that. The guys who got runs got very big runs as well to make it easier for the guys coming in," Watson said. "In India it's a very hard place to start your innings, so if you do get a start, it's very important to be able to go on and get those very big scores like England did, so you've got plenty of runs to play with throughout the rest of the Test match.
"India's spinners are very highly skilled, especially in these conditions. We certainly can have success over here. There's no reason why we can't. But we are going to have to be at our best because they certainly know how to make the most of the turning conditions."
Success in India would not only show that Watson can handle a variety of roles, he also hopes it can prove to his doubters that he deserves to be part of Australia's top six even if he is not bowling. Clarke has noted on several occasions that Watson is competing with a much greater pool of players as a pure batsman rather than an allrounder, and this series will give some indication as to where he sits in that group.
"There has been a lot that's been mentioned over the last six months on whether I warrant a position in the side as a batsman, if I'm not bowling," Watson said. "I'm playing as a batsman [in India]. [I want] to be able to prove to the selectors and to the people who at times maybe don't think that I'm one of the top six batsman in Australia, to prove that I am that, that I can get picked as a batsman. And then my bowling is just a bonus thing to be able to add to the team."
Brydon Coverdale is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here