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March 12, 2013
News : Clarke remains hopeful of Watson return
Blogs : 'This is a hit on Watson'
Features : Clarke's cultural decree
News : Howard doesn't know the real me - Watson
News : 'It's not just about one incident' - Clarke
News : Clarke sure friendships will endure
News : Watson leaves tour after Australia axe four
News : Watson may quit Test cricket after axeing
In Focus: Australia crack the whip
Series/Tournaments: Australia tour of India
Australia's vice-captain, Shane Watson, has been given a less than glowing endorsement from Cricket Australia's general manager of team performance Pat Howard, who has said Watson is "sometimes" a team player. Howard also alluded to issues between Watson and the captain Michael Clarke, but said Watson could certainly return to the Test side after flying home from the tour of India, while Clarke has said there was no reason Watson cannot retain the vice-captaincy.
Watson's departure was for the birth of his first child but it also came only hours after he and three other members of the squad were told they would not be considered for the third Test in Mohali for failing to complete a task set by the coach Mickey Arthur. While he was leaving, Watson said the punishment was "very harsh" and he was weighing up his cricket future at a time when his life as a father was about to begin.
The decision to axe Watson, James Pattinson, Mitchell Johnson and Usman Khawaja came after a string of disciplinary breaches from the squad on the tour, though not necessarily from those four players. Arthur said on Monday that he had never had reason to doubt Watson's professionalism but, on Tuesday, Howard was less than enthusiastic when asked if Watson was a team player.
"In cricket it is interesting, there are individual aspects. I think that is a hard one to measure," Howard said. When pressed on the issue, he added: "I know Shane reasonably well. I think he acts in the best interests of the team sometimes. I am not going to get drawn into that any more. But there are failings in the system in that we are not getting the best out of Shane - that's our fault."
That Australian cricket has not got the best out of Watson is beyond doubt. Not only has he suffered injuries on a regular basis - he has played only three of the past 12 home Tests - but his batting form has been disappointing since he last scored a Test hundred, coincidentally in Mohali in 2010. In the past two years, Watson has scored 605 Test runs at 25.20, always batting in the top four.
For much of that time he has been the vice-captain to Clarke, although the two are not believed to share a particularly close relationship. On-field, they are rarely seen in close conversation and Howard said that if Watson returned they would need to sort out any issues between them.
"They have normal difficulties that anybody has in a relationship," he said. "The reality is that Michael is a strong driver and they had 18 months to work on that. But I am not going to get drawn into that conversation. The captain and the vice-captain have to sort their issues out. If Michael wants to raise it as a greater issue, he can come forward."
While Watson's future remains up in the air - including whether there is any chance of him returning for the fourth Test in Delhi if his wife gives birth before then - Australia are ready to welcome him back. On Monday, Clarke said there was no reason Watson could not remain vice-captain.
"He definitely can," Clarke said. "There have been times throughout my career where I know I've let myself down and let the team down and you learn from that. Watto knows how important he is to this group. He knows he's a senior player in this group and both of us through this tour have learnt a lot and spent a fair bit of time together, which has been great for me as a captain and also I'm hoping for Watto as vice-captain.
"We need Watto performing at his best ... because he's as good a player as there is in world cricket when he's at his best. Part of my job as captain is to try to help him, like every other player. I do whatever I can to help him be the best player he can be. Because you're captain or vice-captain you're not judged any differently. If anything you judge yourself harder. These are the standards, hit them or there are consequences."
Brydon Coverdale is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets hereFeeds: Brydon Coverdale
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Stats highlights from the fourth ODI between India and West Indies in Dharamsala