South Africa v Australia, 2nd Test, Port Elizabeth

Watson must bowl - Clarke

Daniel Brettig in Port Elizabeth

February 19, 2014

Comments: 58 | Text size: A | A

Shane Watson and Craig McDermott at a training session, Brisbane, November 19, 2013
Shane Watson's inclusion for the remaining two Tests has been put in further doubt © Getty Images
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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 thinkĀ  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 here

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© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

Posted by Back-Foot-Cringe on (February 20, 2014, 14:44 GMT)

@Clavers - "In his past six test matches Watson has averaged 49.72 with the bat, with two centuries and two half-centuries."

Well, you are definitely having it your way with the stats.

Those "past six test matches" conveniently begin with Watto's 176 in the 5th test vs. Poms at the Oval & also conveniently include his statistically helpful 83 not out at the MCG.

Fact: Watto averaged 38.33 over the 5-match Ashes series in Oz, which was significantly lower than EVERY OTHER designated batsman, i.e., Haddin, Warner, Rogers, Smith, Clarke. Plus, his 83 not out adds about 4 runs to his average. Had he gotten out, Watto would've made 34.5 for that series.

Hmmm.

Mate, context & perspective are everything.

When he's "on song" (as people are so fond of saying), he's awesome. But then, every batsman is awesome when on song.

Posted by Back-Foot-Cringe on (February 20, 2014, 13:31 GMT)

@xtrafalgarx - Watto bats 1-7 precisely because he can't nail down a permanent position in the order. It's like, all these years later, we're still looking for a place where he'll contribute & excel in tests. He was packaged & marketed as a top order bat, which is by now a proven fail. Ave of 36.33 is a luxury Aus can't afford. Plus, he's constantly bloody injured so let's get Faulkner going as THE all-rounder.

Three years ago or so, Watto was, for my $$, the best ODI player in the world, propelling Aus to #1 status with both bat & ball. He was a consistently superb performer in this format. Career ODI batting ave of 41.06! He has a home here. Doesn't have to bowl too many overs. Can play his natural game.

He's almost 33 years old. Several other players are up there too. We can't have mass retirements all at once like we did several years ago. Look how that turned out.

Okay, give him a go at #6. But he MUST be able to bowl. If he fails at 6 or gets injured AGAIN, then bye-bye.

Posted by xtrafalgarx on (February 20, 2014, 1:43 GMT)

@Back-Foot-Cringe: Okay, i'll admit that Watson hasn't delivered with the bat for the most part, but this is the one area where i think he is judged unfairly. Watson has hardly ever batted at no.3!!! His Career average is built up over batting in every position from 1 to 7 or 8. In the time he has moved up to three, he has averaged 40 odd.

Posted by thectexperience on (February 20, 2014, 1:33 GMT)

Agree with Ravi. Watto is an asset on a flat deck, but on a greentop we don't need him to bowl a side out and moreover his batting won't be much use in such conditions. Bring him to the UAE!

Posted by MinusZero on (February 20, 2014, 1:29 GMT)

Watson is so overrated in tests. Does he supply the team beer or something? I am bewildered as to why they think he is so great. His record is modest at best, definitely not world class. His career batting ave is 36.33. In wins he averages 37.39. Bowling average is 31.83. In wins he averages 27.64. These are not statistics that show how important he is to winning games. He just plods along not really doing much. Retire to ODI and T20 already!

Posted by thectexperience on (February 20, 2014, 1:25 GMT)

As an Aussie fan I don't really appreciate the framing of this piece by Dan Brettig. Clarke makes it clear that it's not his decision, yet the title makes it seem as though Clarke is stamping his authority on the question of Watto's place in the team: pretty unhelpful stuff giving the history between the players.

I'm as frustrated with Watson's batting as anyone, but I wouldn't want to overlook his value in giving respite to Johnson and Harris. Those guys are probably the #1 and #2 reasons for our dramatic recent success. The longer we can keep them going, the better, right? No-one wants to see Harris pounding away on a flat deck in a four-pronged bowling attack, if/when Amla/de Villers/Misbah/Younus Khan get on top of us at some stage.

When Watto can bowl again I'd have him open for Rogers and be happy when he gets to 50. All we need is for him to stall the new-ball attack because the current lower-order is gold.

Posted by Barnesy4444 on (February 20, 2014, 0:33 GMT)

Watson cannot be discarded just yet. I don't think Marsh's form will last (it never has before), Doolan is an unknown at this level, Rogers is 36 and Clarke has a buggered back.

All we need is another form slump from Marsh, or Doolan to be found out or Clarke to become a cripple and we will need a dominating middle order bat whether he can bowl or not.

Posted by Barnesy4444 on (February 20, 2014, 0:29 GMT)

He should have stayed batting at 6 like Punter wanted him to do all along. He could have seriously dominated there against the old ball and tired bowlers. He could have held his spot simply as a batsman who could bowl a few handy partnership breaking overs.

It started going downhill for Watson when Clarke began bowling him 25-30 overs an innings..............

Posted by disco_bob on (February 19, 2014, 21:03 GMT)

You have to read this closely, "...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..." Watto will never be able to bowl following a calf strain. Ergo...

Posted by disco_bob on (February 19, 2014, 20:55 GMT)

Watson could be a very useful 12th man, I'm sure he wouldn't have dropped that dolly like Elgar, and running the drinks would keep his hammies warm.

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Daniel BrettigClose
Daniel Brettig Assistant editor Daniel Brettig had been a journalist for eight years when he joined ESPNcricinfo, but his fascination with cricket dates back to the early 1990s, when his dad helped him sneak into the family lounge room to watch the end of day-night World Series matches well past bedtime. Unapologetically passionate about indie music and the South Australian Redbacks, Daniel's chief cricketing achievement was to dismiss Wisden Almanack editor Lawrence Booth in the 2010 Ashes press match in Perth - a rare Australian victory that summer.
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