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March 18, 2013
Shane Watson has committed himself to Australia's Test team for the long term and will rejoin the squad in India ahead of the fourth Test in Delhi. Watson was due to leave Sydney on Monday evening for the final Test of the series, which begins at the Feroz Shah Kotla on Friday, ending any further speculation about his plans after he flew out of Chandigarh last week for the birth of his son, Will, and said at the time he would weigh up his future while at home.
Watson also said he had spoken a number of times over the past week to Pat Howard, Cricket Australia's general manager of team performance, and said they were now "on the same page" after they exchanged words publicly last week. Howard is also expected to arrive in Delhi ahead of the fourth Test this week.
When he left India having been told his wife Lee was likely to give birth earlier than expected, Watson said he would use his time at home to weigh up his cricket future and said that "there are a lot more important things in life". At the time, Watson had just been ruled out of the third Test in Chandigarh as one of the four players who failed to complete a task set by the coach Mickey Arthur, and he declared the punishment "very harsh".
The issue was exacerbated when Howard said Watson was a team player "sometimes" and alluded to problems between Watson, the vice-captain, and Clarke. However, Watson and Clarke spoke on the phone when Watson arrived home and Clarke said the best-case scenario was Watson returning as vice-captain for the Delhi Test.
Watson said Howard did not know him well, and after the public words from both sides Howard offered to fly to Sydney to speak to Watson face to face to iron out any problems between them. Watson said the pair had spoken over the past week and ironed out their differences.
"I've had several constructive discussions with team management back in Mohali over the past few days," Watson said. "We've spoken about how we are going to work together to move forward, as Australia attempts to climb back to the top of the ICC rankings. I've a burning ambition to be an Australian Test player for as long as I can be and help Australia win those big Test Series as well as the big ICC tournaments.
"I have also had a number of chats with Pat Howard over the last week and we are both now on the same page and are really looking forward to working together to get Australia to be the best team in the world. I'm looking forward to getting around the boys again and concentrating on moving forward. I'm entirely committed to the team and being the best player I can be."
Watson's return will create a selection issue after Steven Smith scored a highly impressive 92 in the first innings in Mohali and Phillip Hughes also fought through his spin problems to post 69 in the second innings. The possible permutations are further complicated by uncertainty over the fitness of the captain Michael Clarke, who struggled with back pain on the fourth day in Mohali and was hampered by the problem while batting on day five.
Clarke has never missed a Test due to his ongoing back problems but the short turnaround between Tests will create a challenge for Australia's medical staff to ensure he is available. The team travels from Chandigarh to Delhi on Tuesday and then has two days of training before the Delhi Test. It is not outside the realms of possibility that Watson, the vice-captain, could lead the team in Delhi, which would be a remarkable turnaround after his comments a week ago.
Regardless of the off-field issues, Australia also need a major improvement from Watson with the bat after he scored 28, 17, 23 and 9 during the first two Tests. Since becoming vice-captain in 2011, Watson has averaged only 25.20 with the bat and has not scored a century.
Brydon Coverdale is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets hereFeeds: Brydon Coverdale
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