Australia in South Africa 2013-14 February 8, 2014

Watson out of first Test

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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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  • Shaggy076 on February 11, 2014, 5:02 GMT

    Scoffy; 29 years of age and one first class century, with an average of 31. Can't see how you can pick that over Watson. Good player but never going to be picked as a batsman on that record.

  • OneEyedAussie on February 11, 2014, 1:48 GMT

    Having a fourth seam option is an integral part of Australia's strategy. Harris' and Johnsons' spells need to be kept short (preferably no more than 5-6 overs). This means that Henriques will probably be selected in the team if Watson is not to bowl - which seems a certainty at this stage. It also means that Doolan or Hughes will be picked in Watson is not fit to bat. Of course, Hughes has the best red ball form out of the two, but I can't help but think it might be worth having a look at Doolan.

  • Scoffy on February 10, 2014, 14:44 GMT

    Just throwign it out there but I think Tim Paine playing as a batsman might make a good number 3.

  • ScottStevo on February 10, 2014, 11:30 GMT

    @BradmanBestEver, Maybe not, but he's a much better option than any of the 3 you've mentioned. Doolan doesn't even match Watson's test #3 average at shield level - good call! Silk and Maddinson aren't even ready for test cricket let alone at 3. Maddinson doesn't even look a number 3 either. He's another Warner in the making and we need someone more solid at 3 than he'll be. Fact is, we don't have anyone better to take that #3 at the moment. M Marsh, gimme a break. Also, Watson doesn't bat at 6, look at his stats from 6-11, he averages around 15. For whatever reason it may be, he obviously doesn't do well after sitting in the sheds waiting to bat...

  • Shaggy076 on February 10, 2014, 11:21 GMT

    I also agree with ScottStevo and Viv Gilchrist Watto is our best allrounder. His test batting average ain't great but its higher than what Faulkner and Henriques have done at the lower level. People talk about Faulkner but he still hasn't scored a first class hundred. Watto will be missed for balance. I would prefer to go in with 6 batsman as I fill our pace attack are fit enough to handle the slight increase in work load and Henriques batting which is his strong suit is questionable.

  • GROUCHO_MARX on February 10, 2014, 9:03 GMT

    A blessing in disguise - Watto is not the best option at No.3. We should try Doolan or Silk or Maddinson at No. 3. Put Watto at no. 6 until he can no longer bowl and then replace him with M. Marsh.

    Relegate S. Marsh to a permanent one day/T20 player

  • VivGilchrist on February 10, 2014, 8:04 GMT

    @CptMeanster, big comments. How's India travelling these days?

  • VivGilchrist on February 10, 2014, 7:12 GMT

    I agree with ScottStevo, this totally chucks out Australia's team balance. For those that don't see that and how it may effect the continuity of our bowling attack either has a distorted bias against Watson or doesn't understand Test cricket.

  • ScottStevo on February 10, 2014, 0:17 GMT

    (continued)...yet, in the first innings, the 2nd wicket partnership was the 2nd highest in the 1st innings other than the 6th, which from recollection was around 50. That would suggest that, even if Watson wasn't scoring runs, at the very least he was forging partnerships that the openers, nor the other top 5 were managing. I find it amusing that haters want desperately to hate Watson, yet seem to forget what he brings, especially in his underrated bowling. Another myth - Faulkner > Watson. Ha! For starters, JF is a bowler who can bat a bit (a bit in ODI). Somehow Aus fans seem to think JF will bat well in tests yet Bailey failed. Bailey had the best calendar year of just about any ODI batsman and failed, Faulker smashed a few runs in India (2 digs) and one against Eng. Magnificent innings, but Bailey, who did so, so, so, so, so much better in '13 failed - why would a bowler do better? I'll tell you now, he WON'T. Watto is a huge loss in this series as he leaves our side unbalanced...

  • ScottStevo on February 10, 2014, 0:10 GMT

    @GreatestGame, whilst I generally never agree with you - and for good reason; normally you're completely off the mark - however, on this rare occasion, you're spot on. Watson isn't fit to strap the bootlaces of Kallis and comparisons between the 2 are irrelevant.

    Nonetheless, Watson is CRUCIAL to the Aus side as he adds a balance that cannot be obtained through any other player we currently have. Here's a few myths about Watson dispelled (hopefully some will actually take these stats on board). Firstly, forget his career average. WE need only look at Watson from '09 when we gave him a slot as batsman. SInce then, as opener, Watson averages around 42 - the same as the much loved Warner. Yet, apparently Watson ISN'T a top order bat. Watson averages at # 3 around 41 also, which would suggest, he's not doing too bad there either. Watson doesn't score runs under pressure - well, he scored that 83* in the ashes to win us a test, but that was 2nd innings, so didn't count....

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