Watson stands in for Clarke in Delhi
Shane Watson has been confirmed as Australia's 44th Test captain on Friday morning and Matthew Wade will be his vice-captain after Michael Clarke was ruled out of the Delhi Test due to his ongoing back injury. Clarke will be sent home to Sydney as soon as possible for scans and it is unclear at this stage when he will be available to play, but his role in the IPL for the Pune Warriors will certainly be in doubt given Australia's heavy upcoming commitments with the Champions Trophy in England and the subsequent Ashes tour.
"Michael injured his lower back during the third Test," Alex Kountouris, the team physio, said. "Whilst there has been some slow improvement, he is still well short of full function so was unable to train and will not be available to play the fourth Test. The plan is for Michael to return to Sydney as soon as possible to have a series of scans and we will monitor his progress over the coming days before deciding on the best course of action.
"We will be taking the opportunity to investigate and manage his ongoing hamstring injury that has been intermittently troubling him since the Australian summer. A decision on his return to cricket will be made once we have evaluated the scans and considered the possible management options."
Clarke's omission was no surprise given the clear discomfort he was in during the final two days of the Mohali Test and the short turnaround between matches. The Delhi Test will be the first Clarke has missed due to the back problems that have affected him since he was 17. As a result, Watson will lead an inexperienced outfit at the Feroz Shah Kotla, where the Australians will aim to avoid a 4-0 series defeat.
Watson's appointment to the captaincy completes a remarkable fortnight in which he was one of four players stood down from the Mohali Test due to their failure to complete the coach Mickey Arthur's so-called homework task. He then flew straight home to Sydney for the birth of his first child, along the way causing some controversy with his comments about the "very harsh" punishment of being axed for a Test, but his return to India will add some much-needed experience in Clarke's absence.
"It's really a dream come true to be asked to captain your country. I've captained some one-day internationals, but to be asked to captain a Test will be the ultimate honour," Watson said. "It's obviously very disappointing that Michael hasn't come up, his batting and leadership will certainly be sorely missed, but I'm looking forward to the challenge and responsibility over the next five days.
"Michael and Mickey talked to me about it when I first arrived back here in India. It was always going to be touch and go for him to be able to play. I mentally started preparing from there. I am really excited about the opportunity. It's disappointing that Michael is not going to be fit for this Test match. His batting we are going to sorely miss, the amazing touch he is in at the moment and also his leadership skills as well. Hopefully I can fill the void in some way to help the team finish off on a good note.
"It has been a very up and down week emotionally. To be stood down from a Test match hit me very hard and it's been a great process over the week to get back into the team and contribute again. To have the opportunity to see the birth of my boy - I can never thank Mickey and Michael especially for giving the opportunity to go home. It is the most amazing experience of my life. It's amazing how if you get through the tough times some nice things come along."
Rod Marsh, the on-duty selector, said Clarke had given himself every opportunity to play but was simply not 100% fit. Marsh said handing the captaincy to Watson was an easy call.
"The decision for Shane Watson to step in as captain was a very straight forward one for the national selection panel [NSP]," Marsh said. "Shane is the vice-captain on this tour and as a senior member of the group is well credentialed to lead Australia in Michael's absence.
"The CA board has endorsed the NSP recommendation that Shane should captain Australian in the fourth Test. Shane is an experienced player in Indian conditions and has captained the Australian ODI side nine times. The board also approved the nomination of Matthew Wade as vice-captain for this Test which will be a great experience for the young wicketkeeper."
Brydon Coverdale is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here