Watson could return for second ODI
Shane Watson, the Australia opening batsmen, is likely to make a comeback for the second ODI against South Africa in Port Elizabeth on Sunday. Watson sustained a hip injury before the second Twenty20 match last week and missed out on that game in Johannesburg and the first one-day international on Wednesday. He was not seriously hurt though, and was left out of the starting XI as a precaution, for fear of aggravating the niggle ahead of the Test series.
"I'm confident with how Shane trained yesterday and that he'll be fine to go," Michael Clarke, Australia captain said. Shaun Marsh, Australia's other injured player, took part in a session for the first time on Saturday since picking up a shoulder injury after playing in the first T20 in Cape Town ten days ago. Clarke said team management would give the pair "as long as possible" to see whether they are fit for Sunday's match and will only announce their starting XI at the eleventh hour.
If both Watson and Marsh are deemed fit, Australia will have four men capable of opening the batting and Clarke will have some decisions to make. David Warner, who was in ominous form at the Champions League T20 for New South Wales, but has only amassed 20 runs from three innings on this tour, and Ricky Ponting, who scored 63 in the first ODI, opened the batting on Wednesday. "It's not a bad problem to have," Clarke said. "We will wait and see what happens with Shaun today and with Shane. We'll see how he pulls up and we will work out what the best XI is in these conditions. We need to make sure we assess them correctly."
St George's Park's much slower pitch, with lower bounce, will be vastly different to the pacy wicket the two sides played on in Centurion. A westerly wind is predicted, which should bring in moisture from the sea and offer something to the bowlers and although the pitch is likely to be flat, run-scoring can be more difficult here.
That will not come as good news to former South African captain Graeme Smith, who has been under fire for his lack of form. Smith managed just four runs in the last ODI, which were overthrows and has looked increasingly uncomfortable at the crease. Clarke said Australia are not taking his lean patch for granted and they expect the Smith that stood up to them in the 2008-9 series to be back soon. "There's certainly going to be a time in this series when Graeme will make run. He is a good player and his statistics certainly show that."
Clarke also sympathised with Smith, saying his public pasting is somewhat unwarranted. "He has been a very good captain and a very good player so I don't know why he copped so much criticism," he said. "In regards to playing against him, I respect him."
With Australia's two left-arm pace bowlers, Doug Bollinger and Mitchell Johnson, things are not set to get any easier for Smith, who has been hesitant against left-armers. Clarke thinks it's not necessarily the arm the bowler uses, but the ability to swing the ball that is causing Smith problems. "Anytime the ball is swinging, whether you are right or left-handed, it's tough batting," he said. I think that was the case the other night, there was a bit of rain in the air and our bowlers did a very good job in good bowling conditions."
Australia's attack is earning them high praise, with the blend of old hands and young talent proving successful. "We've got a couple left-handers and if the ball is swinging, they play a big part in bowling to left-handers, swinging the ball away. And, it's no different with [Pat] Cummins or [James] Pattinson to right-handers, they take the ball away from the right-hander so it's a good place to be with our fast bowlers at the moment."
Cummins has claimed the bulk of the spotlight, with his evident maturity at his young age constantly pointed out as exceptional. He was included in Australia's Test squad at the expense of Pattinson, who was included in the squad for the tour of Sri Lanka. Pattinson has faded a little but Clarke is convinced that he will make an appearance again soon. "He is a young guy and he is trying to improve every time he walks into the nets," he said. "I'm confident you will see more of him, whether it's in this series or in the Australian summer. He has got an opportunity to perform for Victoria while we are playing the Tests. I wouldn't be surprised if you see him playing in these one-dayers either."
The Port Elizabeth pitch may not be the place for Pattinson but the venue of the third ODI, Durban, may give him his chance. By then, Australia hope to have wrapped up the series and Clarke said even if they have, they will go for the kill and look to sweep South Africa. For now, their focus is on the second ODI and they have a reason other than a trophy to want to emerge victorious. Wicketkeeper, Brad Haddin, turns 34 on Sunday and Clarke said, "I'd love nothing more than to win the series for him to celebrate his birthday."
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent