South Africa v Australia, 3rd Test, Cape Town February 28, 2014

Clarke needs Watson's best


To beat South Africa in what he has called the biggest match of Australia's summer and what is arguably the most significant of his captaincy so far, Michael Clarke is looking for a command all-round performance from Shane Watson on his return to the side from a calf strain.

Though he has often flattered to deceive across a Test career punctuated all too often by injuries, Watson looms as a critical point of difference for the tourists at Newlands, on a dry pitch and abrasive square that appears likely to be favourable to batsmen before developing into fertile ground for reverse swing.

While South Africa have juggled their batting order and bowling options over the series in an effort to cover for the hole left by Jacques Kallis, Clarke and Australia are being reinforced by an all-round option at exactly the right time. Clarke's mentor Shane Warne prospered with Rajasthan in the inaugural IPL by making Watson feel wanted and offering him a lead role in his plans. It seemed no coincidence that Warne's arrival in Cape Town as a spin consultant was followed by Clarke's warmest words about Watson for some time.

"I think Watto offers a hell of a lot as an allrounder, there's no doubt about it," Clarke said. "I made it very clear to Watto from day one that I think he's had the potential to be the best allrounder in the world. I think I said when I took over the captaincy that the only one that stands out to me as a better allrounder than him was Jacques Kallis, and now Jacques has retired. I still have the same beliefs. I still think Watto is as gifted an international cricketer as there is - bat, bowl and field.

"His power game is unbelievable. I think we've seen a fair bit of that. I know there's a lot of talk about his conversions, turning 50s into 100s. Watto has been very open about that and he would love to score more hundreds. And I think he's started. You look at his last 12 months - his success with the bat in England and Australia - he's turning those 50s into 100s, and I do believe his bowling has a huge importance to our team. Number one, because of how good he is. Number two, because it gives you that extra bowling option.

"Watto can open the bowling, Watto can bowl reverse-swing. He bowls somewhere between 130 and 140kph. To be able to be a top order batter and do that, there's not many players in the world that have that gift. If you have the luxury of having a player of Watto's calibre that can bat and bowl it just makes a huge difference."

Watson's inclusion in place of either Alex Doolan or Shaun Marsh may be the only change to the Australian XI, with James Pattinson considered the only other possible inclusion should the selectors choose to withdraw Ryan Harris from the firing line little more than a week before he is due to undergo knee clean-out surgery in Australia. Though Harris has fought his share of doubts on this trip, Clarke said a generous break between matches and Watson's availability as a fourth seam option would make a change less likely.

"I think the fact we've had four-day Test matches that helps, a day off for the boys yesterday. The bowlers we're facing in the nets they all look completely fine," Clarke said. "No doubt it's more mentally [a challenge] than anything else. We've come off the Australian summer where everyone's probably mentally fatigued. But tell me a Test match through my career I haven't been mentally fatigued.

"The fact is that physically the guys are in really good shape, they're fit and healthy and there's no injuries at this stage. That's an unbelievable achievement by the support staff to keep every player on the park. By the time the game starts mentally I think they'll be ready to go. My personal view is if the selectors are going to make a change. I can't imagine it being about resting someone because they're not fresh. I think it would be you're dropping someone to choose the best XI."

Clarke has acknowledged that his men did not adapt to the subtler qualities of the Port Elizabeth surface anywhere near as effectively as they had to a swift and capricious Centurion pitch. To that end the tourists have been training assiduously around dealing with the old ball better as both batsmen and bowlers. To a man they are eager to make the most of the chance to win a series against the world's top team.

"It's as exciting a challenge as you have, I think everybody was excited about way we played against England and beating such a good team 5-0 but as a player this is as exciting," Clarke said. "You are playing the No. 1 side in the world in their own back yard and you have a chance to beat them.

"This would be an amazing achievement by this team to win this Test match and as an individual player who has played a lot of cricket around the world if this doesn't excite you you are in the wrong sport. We are excited by the tough challenge in front of us and what an achievement it would be."

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

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Scott on March 1, 2014, 15:12 GMT

    @Bill Pollock, whilst I disagreed with dropping Hughes at the time, Watson did very well in that 09 series, albeit without going on and basically scored 50 each time he was at the crease. He still averages 41 as a test opener. He also averages 42 at #3. Injury prone or not (just to think what they might be if he could maintain fitness), that's pretty good going for a bloke who supposedly can't cut is as a top order batsman...The reality is that we do need that 5th bowler as it allows us to use Johnson in short, sharp bursts and to manage Harris who is possibly even more injury prone than Watson.

  • Dummy4 on March 1, 2014, 7:41 GMT

    Watson is and always has been a walking injury. The team bowled well in the first test and won without Watson. Harris looks like he is carrying an injury so maybe Pattinson in for him. Both Doolan and Marsh batted well in the first test but that means nothing to the selectors. Look at Hughes, two centuries in SA then dropped two tests later for who? Watson.

  • Rajaram on March 1, 2014, 5:30 GMT

    I am confident that in THIS Test, Shane Watson will deliver with BOTH -Bat and Ball.

  • Patrick on March 1, 2014, 3:58 GMT

    @Proteaman, just like Hansie personified SA sportsmen?

  • Chris on March 1, 2014, 2:31 GMT

    When are Siddle or Lyon going to step up and actually win us a match for a change instead of hiding in the shadows of better players? Pattinson, Bird and O'Keefe have the potential to win you a match, Siddle and Lyon have never really done it (Lyon cleaning up tail-enders in Australia doesn't count).

  • Heath on February 28, 2014, 23:41 GMT

    Australia needs Watson as he gives our quicks a rest which will help with their performance. Australia do not have an adequate fifth bowler without him. Plus we need to win so we need to have a strong bowling lineup as possible.

  • Brenton on February 28, 2014, 10:00 GMT

    Watson's bowling is excellent. His stats don't do justice, numerous times he breaks an important partnership then gets taken off immediately for Johnson and Harris to have a crack at the new batsman.

    Watson should bat at 6, if he can't bowl he should stay there just as a bat until there is a better player who can replace him, at the moment there isn't.

    We need all of our players to fire, especially Johnson, Warner and Clarke in the first innings.

  • Basil on February 28, 2014, 9:49 GMT

    @ProteaMan, don't judge us. A lot of things could be said of South Africans too if you wish to generalise.

  • Dummy4 on February 28, 2014, 9:43 GMT

    Seriously get rid of Watson, Aus have been carrying an unfit bloke like him for way too long, even if he was as good as Sobers, which he very clearly isn't, he doesn't deserve this many chances, in fact nobody in history of international cricket has hung around this long purely on the basis of a reputation.