Australia in South Africa 2013-14 February 16, 2014

Watson unlikely for Port Elizabeth


Shane Watson will not return to Australia's Test XI in South Africa until he can bowl, effectively ruling him out of the second Test in Port Elizabeth where the tourists will hope to seal the series following their enormous victory over the bedraggled hosts at Centurion.

While Watson has returned to running and batted in Centurion's indoor nets towards the end of the Test, following a calf strain, he has not yet attempted to bowl and cannot be expected to push out any of the incumbent batsmen given their recent performances. The returning Shaun Marsh and debutant Alex Doolan each made telling contributions to the 281-run hiding, even if they were overshadowed by the brilliance of Mitchell Johnson on a pitch of variable bounce.

Australia's coach, Darren Lehmann, who rated the result alongside any he had been involved in away from home, expressed his preference for Watson being able to bowl before he returned, while also adding that it would be extremely difficult to change the combination that had so humbled Graeme Smith's side inside four days.

"We'll have to see if he's fit and ready to play, and then we'll make a decision. That's what we did with the touring party and with this Test match, the next Test match is the same," Lehman said. "It's always very hard to fit him in if you're winning. We don't like to change the side too much, but if he's fit and ready to go we'll have to wait and see.

"You'd like him to bowl. Firstly we've got to get him fit, then we'll see what happens from there. From my point of view we've got to get him fit. He's pretty close. He was running [on Saturday], but at the end of the day we've got to get him fit and right and ready to go to play cricket at this level."

Australia's ambush of South Africa on a ground where they had previously boasted a dominant record bore comparison to the seismic defeat of England in Brisbane to set the tone for a 5-0 Ashes sweep. However, Lehmann observed this match was of even greater import in the context of the series, as South Africa now had only two matches left to re-group.

"It's a three-match series, it's pretty important isn't it?" he said. "If it's a five-match series then obviously you would like to win the first one but it's not as important as it is in a three-match series. It was a great result for us, away from home. We spoke about that at the start of the tour ... that you have to start winning away from home to get noticed and climb up the ranks and be respected by your opponents, but also play the brand of cricket you want to play. We need to do that day-in, day-out. That's no different next week."

Apart from the efforts of Johnson, Marsh, Steven Smith, Doolan and David Warner, Lehmann also highlighted the committed and thorough nature of the team's fielding. Next to a South Africa side that looked rusty and vulnerable in the field, putting down numerous chances, the Australians did not miss a single one, and were still diving around as if their lives depended on it well after victory was in sight.

"Obviously we caught very well in this game - I don't think we put down a catch, so that's good," Lehmann said. "The pleasing one for me is at nine down when Chris Rogers dived for the boundary. That means the hunger [is there]. That's what we want from our side. Each and every day we represent Australia we want to have that hunger and drive to play the best we can. At nine down ... when you're seeing blokes dive, I like.

"I'm proud of everything we did, we ticked off everything we wanted to do in this game, now it's a case of backing it up."

One man Lehmann expected some improvement from in Port Elizabeth is Ryan Harris, who looked short of rhythm in the first innings before returning to his more familiar high standards in the second. At times he appeared to struggle with the chronic knee problem that will require surgery after this tour, but Lehmann reckoned he would be better for the run.

"He struggled a bit," Lehmann admitted. "I think not playing for a while hampered him a little bit. But he certainly bowled better [second innings], in his second spell, it was a bit more like the Ryan Harris we know. So I expect him to get better."

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

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Peter on February 18, 2014, 7:36 GMT

    @disco_bob. You also forget that when he was Captain in the 4th test vs. India he still didn't open & put Maxwell as opener the 2nd innings!

  • David on February 18, 2014, 0:47 GMT

    Phillip Hughes needs to work on his medium pace bowling.

  • Brady on February 17, 2014, 22:52 GMT

    Watson's played a few good ones over the years. Perth 2010, 95 in the second innings to secure a decent lead. 93 and 120* MCG 2009. Mohali 2010, 126 (though India won the game by one wicket in the end, probably not Watson's fault though). Also the 5th Ashes test recently in England that was weather affected. And of course, there are a few 5-fors as well.

    Would have agree with the general statement that Watson from the perspective of his whole career to date has been an underperforming top order batsmen but given Australia's lack of talent over recent years he has been a capable all-rounder.

  • Per on February 17, 2014, 21:21 GMT

    @paddyclark I actually don't think all critisism is about him being in the side only. I think it mainly stems from him quite obviously not being a top order batsman in tests anyway. At no. 6 or 7 is possibly a more correct placement for him in a test batting lineup. But come on - an Australian no 3? Surely you can't say that both he deserves to be there & has done enough with all his chances to stay there???

  • subhasish on February 17, 2014, 14:01 GMT

    i do not think watt can makes a come back in the test team he is not a test player doolan is a batter test player then watson and his 28 watson is 33 aus should go for younger player not old players i think 1st test team should play last 2 test i do not think aus need to change the team becoz of watson aus got 4 world class bowlers and best attack in the world they do not need watson bowling warner and smith can do the part time job also clarke can bowl some spin .

  • Pat on February 17, 2014, 11:25 GMT

    Rubbish disco - you were just plain wrong and by the way all ashes tests matter. If you think they don't then I dont think youknow what your talking about. I.e the difference bwtween us beating Eng 5 - 0 as opposed to 3 - 2 or 3 - 0. Its a massive difference and they all matter. It was terriffic ton under extreme pressure in eng- particularly with the pressure put on him re: lbw that series by the media and eng squad. Im not saying he is don bradman reborn but I hate the overly negative rubbish posted about him.

  • disco on February 17, 2014, 11:15 GMT

    @Paddyclark, "...and the question was has he played one..." Come on mate, you're being disingenuous now, Warner carried his bat on a difficult pitch and got us to within 7 runs when the series was still alive. That is what I meant as the sort of spirit that Watson has NEVER shown, when it really mattered. Unless Smith suddenly has a catastrophic form collapse there is simply no room for Watson, because he is not a top order batsman and his bowling is not good enough to carry him higher than 6, not only that but remember that he said he wants to be an opener and that he refused to bowl in India. Refused. He said he'd let the coach know when he can bowl again. Surely he's having a larf.

  • disco on February 17, 2014, 11:00 GMT

    @Paddyclark "disco_bob - yes he did exactly that when he scored a ton in England last Ashes", you could not have proved my point better if you tried, for reasons already explained by MUP.

  • Xiong on February 17, 2014, 10:58 GMT

    @Paddyclark Certainly not, I never said that. But wouldn't it be nice if once in all the test series he's played he actually made a difference to the series off his own bat? I'm not saying he has no place in the team yet, but I don't think he's a top order batsman, he's just plain unreliable. Also against a new ball and any half decent seam attack in world cricket his technical issues are plain as day for all to see. He's played 51 tests and not many memorable innings, it's way too many chances for anyone batting in the top 5. The problem was our batting had huge holes in it and he was a valid stop gap at the time. Now that we have some batsmen who don't have glaring technical flaws his only real place in the team is at 6. But if he can't bowl then as it stands right now there's no way he has a place in the team purely on his batting. Dale Steyn would eat him for breakfast, and if Philander gets one to nip back a bit you know what's going to happen next.

  • Pat on February 17, 2014, 10:33 GMT

    Also I don't disagree that we have wanted to see more from Watson with the bat, but he has turned several matches with his bowling. You will see his value when we have fresh frontline bowlers taking the second new ball not to mention that a bowling average of 32 is very respectable in its own right.

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