Australia in South Africa 2013-14 February 8, 2014

Watson out of first Test

A crestfallen Shane Watson is out of the first Test against South Africa and under a cloud for the whole series after a calf strain proved more stubborn than first thought.

The injury is a major blow to Australia's hopes of unseating South Africa at home, particularly after James Faulkner was also ruled out due to knee surgery. It leaves the tourists weighing up the inclusion of Moises Henriques as an allrounder or the promotion of Phillip Hughes and a resulting reliance upon a four-man bowling attack.

Having complained of calf soreness during an early training session on tour, Watson had tried to build up his workload over the past two days as Australian trained in Johannesburg, but recurring pain has seen him ruled out of the match at Centurion Park by the team physio Alex Kountouris. He will now have a few days of light duties before attempting to recover in time for the second Test at Port Elizabeth.

"We thought 'He's had this before, let's just nurse it'," Kountouris said of the injury. "He batted yesterday and was fine, and we've been building up his intensity. Today we were trying to get him up to match level . . . and he struggled with that today. He could feel it. We just don't think he he's going to be right for the first Test. We need a few more days now to let him recover and start up again.

"Hopefully he gets to the point where he's able to train unrestricted by two or three days' out from the second Test, which is what we were planning to do here, and then being able to reproduce that two or three times and be confident he can get through a game."

Watson's plight is such that he is presently unfit to bat as well as bowl, as even the simple task of running has proven too difficult. He is thus facing a brief time frame to be fit as a batsman in the series, while his chances of bowling appear slim due to the greater amount of time required to build up strength and confidence in the calf - a muscle that can be notoriously slow to improve.

"There is usually a bit of a lag, because running is generally a bit easier than bowling," Kountouris said. "Our first priority is to try and get him back as a batter, give the selectors that option.

"He was very disappointed obviously, as we all are. We were very happy we got everyone through the past Ashes, and Watto himself hasn't missed a game through injury for a very long time. It's disappointing, but it's part of the game."

Though he has one of the more pockmarked injury records of all cricketers, Watson has in recent times improved in his ability to shrug off the muscle strains that had so disrupted his earlier career. In England last year he twice kept playing despite the emergence of niggles, and he likewise battled past hamstring and groin troubles to contribute to the victory at home.

Watson's convalescence is another setback for the tourists following the major disruption caused by heavy rain in Potchefstroom that forced the abandonment of the only planned warm-up fixture. While the confidence imbued by an Ashes sweep of England at home is still evident, teammates were taken aback by the news that Watson would not be available for the start of the South Africa series.

Australia's resilience is being tested considerably by events at the back-end of a long summer, from injuries to Faulkner, Shaun Marsh and Watson to the aforementioned showers in South Africa. Their response will say much about how the coach Darren Lehmann has developed the team, for whom he has set the goal of winning consistently away from home.

Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here

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