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March 20, 2013
Shane Watson's chances of captaining Australia for the first time in Test cricket appear to have risen after Michael Clarke failed to train in Delhi on Wednesday. Although Clarke is still hopeful of being fit for the fourth Test, which starts at the Feroz Shah Kotla on Friday, his ongoing back problem limited his participation at the nets on Wednesday to some discussions with the coach Mickey Arthur and on-duty selector Rod Marsh while the rest of the squad trained.
Clarke has struggled with back trouble for many years and exacerbated the problem during the warm-up on day four in Mohali and was clearly hampered by his injury while batting at No.6 in Australia's second innings. Brad Haddin led Australia in the field during Clarke's periods off the ground but with the vice-captain Watson having rejoined the squad - he batted in the nets in Delhi on Wednesday - he is the most likely man to take charge if Clarke is ruled out.
However, that would create an interesting dynamic given that Watson was one of the four men who failed to complete Arthur's so-called homework task and was left out of the Mohali Test. Watson flew out of Chandigarh the same day for the birth of his first child and when he left, he expressed his disappointment at what he felt was a "very harsh" punishment and said he would use his time at home to consider his cricket future.
But over the past few days Cricket Australia has been at pains to say that Watson is now fully on-board with the plans of the team management and he has committed to Test cricket for the long term. The opener Ed Cowan, who holds no official leadership position but is a well-respected older member of the group, said the squad had no problems welcoming Watson back after the events of the past week.
"There is no doubt about that. In his own words, he has probably decided to come back with full focus and we will accept him because he is such a great player and a good leader," Cowan said on Wednesday. "He is a senior player around the group and it is important those kinds of players are on-board because we need those guys for this team to be the best team in the world. There is no doubt he is on board with the team moving forward.
"Shane is more a lead by example kind of fellow in terms of how he prepares. He doesn't leave many stones unturned in terms of preparation and the way he has performed across all formats for a long period of time, that is an example in itself. He is a very different leader to Michael but we're hoping Michael is fine for this Test. He's such a great batsman and we need his runs and his leadership. We're hoping he will be fit."
Although Clarke did not train on Wednesday, the Australians remain hopeful that he will be able to play in Delhi, despite the short turnaround between matches.
"It's a condition that he's had for a long time and he hasn't missed a Test yet so he's not expecting to miss this but it is a day-to-day proposition. I don't know what the possibility or probability of him playing the Test match is but he's confident because he's so familiar with it and it's something he deals with on a daily basis."
Brydon Coverdale is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets hereFeeds: Brydon Coverdale
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