Australia in India 2012-13 March 19, 2013

Watson return creates selection headache


Shane Watson's return to India ahead of the fourth Test in Delhi will create a selection conundrum if the captain Michael Clarke is passed fit after suffering back pain in Mohali.

Although Watson remains the vice-captain and is almost certain to lead the side if Clarke is ruled out, his batting form has been disappointing for some time and strong performances from Steven Smith and Phillip Hughes in Mohali would make either of them unlucky to be dropped.

These are the questions faced by Clarke, the coach Mickey Arthur and on-duty selector Rod Marsh when the team begins training in Delhi on Wednesday, ahead of the fourth Test, which starts on Friday. Watson will be back with the group having flown home for the birth of his first child, but his trip home was also controversial because of his comments about being one of four players axed for the third Test for disciplinary reasons.

When he left Chandigarh, Watson said he considered the punishment "very harsh" and he would use his time at home to weigh up his cricket future. But after the birth of his son Will, Watson has reconciled with Cricket Australia and decided to rejoin the tour. Despite all of Cricket Australia's assurances that everybody is now on the same page, Watson's return could lead to some tension given his emotional comments on leaving India.

"I am very comfortable that Shane has accepted the punishment," Arthur said on Tuesday. "We have had a lot of conversations over the last week and they have all been very good. He didn't agree with the penalty but he agreed that they had done wrong. We have pretty much got that sorted and we have had numerous conversations and I am really comfortable with where it sits with Watto, we are really happy to have him back.

"I've spoken to Watto a lot, he has been incredibly supportive of where this team is moving to and really wants to be part of it. Once the emotion went away from Watto, he was very, very supportive of what we want to do with the team."

The main question now is how Australia can squeeze Watson into the batting line-up, given the success of Smith and the way Hughes fought through his spin demons in the second innings in Mohali. By contrast, Watson has averaged only 25.20 since taking over the Test vice-captaincy, which Arthur conceded was a concern.

If Clarke is ruled out the likely scenario is a straight swap with Watson, but if Clarke plays then the possible combinations become harder to determine. There are also decisions to be made around the bowling attack after the decision to send Mitchell Starc home for ankle surgery, but given Watson is not bowling on this tour his place can only be considered in the context of the top six.

"We haven't given it a thought yet," Arthur said. "We are really happy to get Shane back. It is really important he came back. Shane's been exceptional over the last week we've had numerous conversations with him. In terms of selection there are a couple of variables right now, Pup's back and Starcy going home. We'll sit down once we have a look at conditions and we'll get it pretty much sorted tomorrow.

"Watson's form is a concern. He looks like he's going to get runs every time he goes to the wicket, he just hasn't kicked on. Watto is the first one to admit that he needs a big score, there's no doubt about that. I'm backing him in to get one pretty soon and then hopefully when he gets it, that just opens the floodgates for more and more runs."

Arthur confirmed that despite the events of the past week Watson remained the vice-captain and likely candidate to lead if Clarke does not play in Delhi. He said that would be a decision for the selectors on duty. Arthur is one of those three selectors while another is Clarke, who said after the Mohali Test he expected Watson would lead if he could not play.

"I am comfortable that if Pup doesn't come up he could do the job," Arthur said. "That could be a discussion with the other on-duty selectors as to what we did but Shane at the moment is vice-captain. You would have to assume that because he is still the vice-captain that we probably wouldn't go past him, but again that would be a discussion."

Arthur said it was impossible to rule Clarke out given the way he has managed his ongoing back injury in the past - he has never missed a Test because of it - but he said Clarke's place in the team would not be decided until closer to the match.

"He is in a bit of pain," Arthur said. "With Michael Clarke you never say never. He will give himself every opportunity to get himself ready for the Test. That will pan out closer to the time and will give him every opportunity to get up for it because he is such a vital cog in our team."

Brydon Coverdale is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Sharad on March 21, 2013, 16:33 GMT

    @Dazako Interesting to see 'your' team does not include Watson. And your argument that he hasn't scored a century in 2 years doesn't hold with us Indians I'm afraid ... cos guess what, we have a 'master' who's in the same boat having scored only 2 50s and 0 100s in his last 19 innings. At least Watto is a better fielder and is considering bowling (which he's very valuable at) in the future. But, I do agree with you on the Khawaja inclusion, just as Rahane should be included on the Indian side. Hughes has had 3 opportunities and dropping him is not a reflection on his performance but providing chances to an equally deserving player. It's not like Hughes commands his position in the team, much like Raina doesn't. Hopefully it'll be an even contest and a clean sweep for India.

  • Naresh on March 21, 2013, 8:21 GMT

    India has its own problems. Ishant is not taking wickets and is supposed to be the leading pace bowler. Somehow Ishant just cannot find his right length to bowl.The other problem they have is that Dhawan the star of the last game is out injured. Raina into the team would help fielding standards. Remember dropped catches can prove costly - India had quite a few versus England.

  • Asker on March 20, 2013, 23:43 GMT

    bring in watson for dougherty..period or moises henriques if clark is fit if not exchange clark for watto. pattinson in for starc.

  • disco on March 20, 2013, 21:15 GMT

    If Hughes had another painful spin dismissal then I could understand the hate but I find it a bit perplexing that his decent turnaround from a horror run as well as finally being lbw by a ball that was missing by a good 6 inches, is now being said to be not deserving of a place in the next match. Well if that is the case what was the point of playing him in the last match. After persevering with Hughes it would be bizarre in the extreme to drop him as soon as he puts in a worthy knock. What message does that send out.

  • NITIN on March 20, 2013, 20:02 GMT

    If both Clarke & Watson play than Hughes has to go but if Clarke remains unfit than it should be a straight swap b/w him & Watson. Khawaja should replace Henriques coz I can't see Moises troubling the Indian batsman on the FerozShah Kotla track, also his batting has fallen after the Chennai Test.

  • Dummy4 on March 20, 2013, 18:58 GMT

    As an Indian fan, I would be happy if Aussie selectors decide to keep Shane Watson out in favor of Hughes.. Hughes was clueless against spin all through the series and even his 60+ in the last test was a "shot-a-minute" flirting with danger innings. Bulk of his runs come from deep square and Dhoni will not hesitate to plug that gap the moment he sees Hughes walking in. On the other hand, Watson looked like scoring runs every time and appeared to be the most dangerous next to Clarke and Henriques (only in the 1st test. What happened to him after that?) My Aussie XI for 4th test would be, (assuming Clarke is fit), Warner, Cowan, Smith, Clarke, Watson, Wade, Henriques, Pattinson, Siddle, Doherty, Lyons

  • Karl on March 20, 2013, 18:33 GMT

    why would Hughes be given a chance after one innings of note.... Like to see the breakdown of runs off spin in the innings - he still got out to a spinner

  • Ubaid on March 20, 2013, 17:07 GMT

    I always thought CA had it covered, they have a strong first class set-up that means a strong bench. I was absolutely wrong....Where the hell is that domestic talent depth.. they can not find 2 technically correct batsmen...... and this guy Hughes ... he is mediocre at best ...

  • disco on March 20, 2013, 13:50 GMT

    What with Clarke feeling hard done by concerning his 'punishment' and Arthur satisfied that the 'punishment' was accepted (excepted [!]) it would be easy to conclude that some sort of punishment had actually taken place. But in fact being suspended for a match that one was had already excused oneself from...

  • Randolph on March 20, 2013, 13:14 GMT

    You know a coach isn't respected when he has to delete his twitter account because of the torrent of abuse from fans. Cya mickey!