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February 19, 2014
Australia captain Michael Clarke has cast further doubt over Shane Watson's place in the team, confirming that the allrounder will not be considered until he is fit again to bowl, but also admitted it may be difficult to find room for him this series even if he can do so.
A grassy surface in Port Elizabeth would be ideally suited to Watson's seam and swing but while he has returned to running drills and batting in the nets he has not yet bowled at all, something he would be expected to do to approach his top pace to be seriously considered again. This gives him virtually no time to be ready for the second Test and very little ahead of the third, which begins only four days after the match at St George's Park.
As ESPNcricinfo reported on Sunday, the selectors have decided that Watson will be out of contention for a place until he is again able to bowl following a calf strain. It had already been determined before the series that he was to be demoted from No. 3 to No. 6 in the batting order, to allow him recovery time after bowling. Watson bowled useful change overs during the Ashes, breaking several partnerships while keeping runs down.
"The information I have from the selectors is if he's not bowling he'll be unavailable for selection," Clarke said. "I don't know the answer to that question [if it's a change in policy]. You'll probably have to ask Darren Lehmann and the other selectors. From the information I have they'll only reselect him if he's available to bowl.
"As soon as Watto is fit and available I know he'll want to be back out on the park. I don't know if you guys watched him in the nets but he's creaming them at the moment. He's a huge player for us, so the sooner we can have Watto back I think the better for this team."
Casting his eye over a pitch that he said could finish the match in three days if the grass on it was not shaved significantly, Clarke expected South Africa to replace the concussed Ryan McLaren with an extra batsman in Dean Elgar, despite the latter's removal from South Africa's list of central contracts.
"I think they will pick an extra batsman," Clarke said. "I think if the wicket stays like it is, it will be a three-dayer, especially with two fantastic bowling attacks. So I don't think it will stay like that, I think they will take something off it, but generally this wicket does does a bit and I think South Africa will go with an extra batter and back their three quicks and a spinner."
The success of that formula for Australia is one of several factors limiting Watson's options to return to the team, alongside the strong impressions made by Shaun Marsh and Alex Doolan with the bat in Centurion. Neither man could expect to be dropped after their displays on a difficult wicket.
"It's a good problem to have," Clarke said of the selection squeeze. "Any time you've got a class allrounder available you've got to try and find some room. Fortunately I'm not a selector so I won't have to make that call.
"The two guys that came in, Dools and Shaun, couldn't have performed any better. They were outstanding. They've grabbed their opportunity with both hands. The guys who've been playing throughout the Ashes have done very well as well."
The only other batsman in the team who has left the slightest window open to Watson is Chris Rogers, who was notably troubled by the bounce in Centurion to be twice dismissed cheaply. Clarke however cited Rogers' outstanding displays against England over the dual Ashes series, in which the left-hander was the leading overall run-scorer on either side.
"I think Bucky is going well, he's done a great job for us," Clarke said. "He was the leading run-scorer if you combine both Ashes series. He's scored two hundreds in his last two Tests of the Australian summer. They weren't the easiest batting conditions the other day. He's a opening batter, he's got the hardest job in the game. Chris has done a fantastic job for us and I'm confident he'll score runs for us in this Test."
Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets hereFeeds: Daniel Brettig
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