Watson concerns put toilers in pace frame
Australian concerns about the workload of Shane Watson over an unprecedented three back-to-back Tests may yet allow the pace toilers Peter Siddle and Trent Copeland to jump the queue for selection in Sri Lanka.
As the tourists considered the risks of fielding two fledgling spin bowlers against the Sri Lankans on what is expected to be a turning pitch in Galle next week, the captain Michael Clarke said his deputy Watson would not be overbowled as a third seamer if two slow bowlers were chosen. The tour schedule is so cramped that Australia play three back-to-back Test matches for the first time in history.
Such a selection would be counterbalanced, Clarke said, by the selection of pace bowlers capable of long spells, placing Siddle and Copeland firmly in the frame. Mitchell Johnson and Ryan Harris, arguably Australia's two most incisive fast bowlers, can be better suited to shorter bursts. Harris is also returning to the Test team after a broken ankle, and has not played first-class cricket since he suffered the injury in last year's Melbourne Ashes Test.
"No doubt it's a concern," Clarke said. "It is a positive we have Watto and we know he can bowl, he's got some good bowling in the one-dayers, but no doubt he's a huge player for us, opening the batting is a big role as well.
"I don't want to blow him out in the first Test, knowing we've got three very important Test matches so there's some concern if we decided to go with two spinners about how heavy his workload would be. But then it also depends on the two other quicks you pick as well.
"If you go with two spinners, the two fast bowlers' role becomes very important, because you have to have someone there who can bowl you some overs. It really is determined by conditions and picking the best bowling unit. When we're picking this team, it's about who we think are going to take 20 wickets, and what is the best combination to do that, not necessarily who are the best four individual bowlers to bowl."
There is little consideration being given as yet to Watson's shift down the batting order, particularly after Simon Katich was so harshly sacrificed by the selectors. This was apparently done to establish Watson and Phil Hughes as a settled opening partnership ahead of the next Ashes series.
"He's been so good at the top of the order, so I don't think it would be smart to move him right now, who knows what may happen in the future," Clarke said. "On one side he's probably going to find it a bit harder opening the batting if he's bowling a lot more, but the other side of it is if he comes off the field after bowling, it generally takes a bit of time for your body to stiffen up, so it might be better for him to get out there and keep playing.
"It's important me and Watto continue to communicate and we'll see how he's travelling and what his thoughts are. Right now he's loving opening the batting and he's a big player for us, he's our vice-captain, and I want him scoring runs, so if he's happy with that right now, then we'll keep him there."
Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo