Injured Watson to miss UAE tour
Mitchell Marsh appears almost certain to make his Test debut against Pakistan next month after Shane Watson was ruled out of Australia's tour of the UAE with a calf injury. Fast bowler Ben Hilfenhaus will replace Watson in the Test squad, having not worn the baggy green for nearly two years, while Kane Richardson will join the ODI and T20 squads.
However, it is Marsh who looks poised to benefit most immediately from Watson's injury. The selectors are likely to lean towards an allrounder who can bat in the top six and provide seam-bowling support in the UAE. That would allow them either to choose two spinners, or three frontline fast men who could then work in shorter spells in the hot weather.
Either way, it suggests that Marsh will probably become Australia's 438th Test cricketer and join his father Geoff and brother Shaun as owners of a baggy green. Only twice before in Test history has a Test cricketing father had two sons who also played Tests: Lala, Mohinder and Surinder Amarnath of India and Walter, Richard and Dayle Hadlee of New Zealand.
It could also lead to a fascinating selection quandary for the home Tests against India if Marsh plays in the UAE and succeeds. The national selector Rod Marsh said on Sunday that Watson remained "an integral part of our plans for the summer", although there appears little way the selectors could squeeze both Marsh and Watson into the Test side in Australian conditions.
However, it also remains to be seen how persistent Watson's calf injury is on this occasion. He missed the first two Tests in South Africa earlier this year with a strain of the same calf, his right, which allowed Shaun Marsh to return to the side. His left calf ruled him out of three Tests of the 2012-13 home summer against South Africa and Sri Lanka and he missed all six home Tests in 2011-12 with calf and hamstring problems.
He was ruled out of the recent one-day tri-series in Zimbabwe with an ankle sprain sustained when he stepped on a ball at training in Brisbane before the team departed. However, it is the calf injury that has proven the major setback and the physio Alex Kountouris said Watson's history of similar injuries led the team management to take a cautious approach.
"Whilst Shane has made steady progress with his rehabilitation after he stepped on a ball and sprained his ankle, he has suffered a setback, experiencing some right calf soreness," Kountouris said. "As Shane has previously had similar calf injuries, we plan to hold back his return to running and bowling for approximately seven to ten days.
"The unfortunate timing of this calf injury will mean that his preparation for the UAE tour will be considerably affected and he would have been unavailable for the T20 and ODI part of the tour and significantly limit his bowling preparation for the Test matches."
Australia's previous selection panel showed a willingness to pick Watson as a specialist batsman during last year's tour of India but his results were disappointing. Watson himself much prefers to be available as an allrounder and he said he would work as hard as possible to ensure he was ready for the home summer, which begins with limited-overs games against South Africa in November.
"I'm naturally disappointed because I was desperate to play against Pakistan which is our opportunity to get back to number one in Test and one-day international cricket," Watson said. "Despite my strong desire to be on the tour, I understand why the selectors have made this decision.
"Given I can't be with the boys, my goal now is to work as hard as I can to get back to 100% fitness so that I can make myself available for selection ahead of our series against South Africa in November. I've been here before and know what I need to do to get back to full fitness. That means remaining positive and working hard. We have a huge summer of cricket at home and my priority now is to play a big part in that."
Watson's place in the Test squad will be taken by Hilfenhaus, who last played Test cricket against Sri Lanka in Hobart in December 2012. The national selector Rod Marsh said Hilfenhaus and Richardson would had earned their call-ups to the Test and limited-overs squads respectively.
"The selectors have opted for another pace option in Ben as we feel we have enough cover in the all-rounder position," Marsh said. "He is an experienced bowler who has worked very hard to get himself back to peak fitness and we know how well he can bowl in tough conditions.
"Kane is a talented young player who had an excellent series for Australia A in July and didn't disappoint in Zimbabwe earlier this month. He now has another opportunity to stake his claim at international level."
Brydon Coverdale is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @brydoncoverdale