Australia v England, 4th Test, Melbourne, 4th day December 29, 2013

Doubts over Harris, Watson for Sydney


Australia's coach Darren Lehmann has conceded Ryan Harris is a doubtful starter for the Sydney Test, while Shane Watson's position could come under scrutiny if he is unable to bowl due to the groin niggle he picked up on Boxing Day. Although Watson would seem a likely starter given his unbeaten 83 secured victory at the MCG, Australia appear loath to risk Harris, who has now played eight consecutive Tests since returning to the side at Lord's in July.

Harris missed all of the last Australian international summer with a shoulder problem and various injuries including an ongoing knee issue have restricted him to 20 Tests of a possible 44 since his debut. He bowled only 34 overs throughout the Melbourne Test but left the field at times and Lehmann said his general struggles with his body could encourage the selectors to take a safety-first approach with him given the short turnaround between Tests.

"If he is not fit he won't play, if he is fit he will play," Lehmann said. "We go the same path all the time. I would say he is doubtful but until we see the medical staff and see how he recovers - the extra day gives us five-day turn around - but we will have to wait and see ... It's everything [in his body] with him. He is a valuable bowler so we won't take any risks. But if he is fit and can get through and do a job for his captain he will play.

"His speeds were still up there, so that's what we judge the bowling on. He didn't have to bowl as much as we thought, either. So that was a lucky thing in terms of the extra day off, or the extra two days off basically. That's helpful leading into a Sydney Test match. Again it will depend on the wicket and what we do. But he didn't bowl as much as we would have thought here."

Should Harris be ruled out, the selectors would need to decide between playing an extra spinner or replacing him with a fellow fast bowler. The leading candidates would be Nathan Coulter-Nile and Doug Bollinger, who have been with the squad on standby for the past two Tests, and Lehmann said the pace of both men had impressed him for their state teams this summer.

"They've got wickets for a start," he said. "But also the pleasing thing is the pace. They've got some velocity. That's a really big area for us in our bowling attack. You need to have speed against players these days. Gone are the days when you can bowl 125kph. You need to be 140 if you possibly can. Speed's a really big issue, especially in Australia where you need some velocity on the ball. Mitchell Johnson has shown that. We're looking for blokes who bowl with some pace."

The allrounder James Faulkner could also come into contention, although selection matters will be complicated if Watson is unable to bowl. Watson left the field with a groin problem on the first day in Melbourne and although he did bowl four overs in the second innings his pace was down and he did not appear fluent in his motion, and at times in the field he was clearly chasing balls at significantly reduced pace.

Although Watson played as a specialist batsman on the tour of India earlier this year, it was not a successful experiment. Watson is coming off a second-innings century at the WACA and an unbeaten 83 in Melbourne, but Lehmann hinted that the selectors may need to consider other options if he was unable to bowl.

"What I will say is that he obviously batted very well today and got us across the line, so that was pleasing," Lehmann said. "I think Shane would admit he's been a little bit disappointed with his output at number three. At the end of the day he's an allrounder, has to bowl. But we'll have to have a look at the Sydney wicket and assess all those situations and assess how he's going. If he's not right to do both then we have to look at that. But that's a selection issue we'll come to in the next couple of days."

Australia are yet to name a squad for the Sydney Test.

Brydon Coverdale is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Jason on December 31, 2013, 6:06 GMT

    Why is Steve OKeefe never mentioned. Easily the best shield bowler this year and has easily the best spin record over the last 3 years, a very handy batsman and good fielder. Yet he never gets mentioned. If Rhino and Watson are injured could we go with: 1. Rogers 2. Warner 3.Doolan 4.Clarke 5.Smith 6.Haddin 7.Faulkner 8.OKeefe 9.Johnson 10.Siddle 11.Lyon Still have 3 quality quicks, a left arm and right arm off spinner plus a part time leggie for what is supposed to be the best turning pitch in Australia.

  • siddhartha on December 31, 2013, 3:49 GMT

    lol its funny that people still criticize Watto.He is the 3rd highest run scorer in this twin Ashes with only 17 runs behind Ian Bell.I hope he goes there in 5th tests and scores a massive double hundred

  • John on December 30, 2013, 20:12 GMT

    Just saw a line discussing Hazlewood. Isn't he injured?

  • Brendan on December 30, 2013, 13:59 GMT

    If it were my call on replacing watson, I would do it by dropping bailey and bringing in faulkner/hughes.

  • Basil on December 30, 2013, 12:47 GMT

    Please, can no-one mention Hazlewood? He is neither good enough for Test cricket or to be at the front of the queue.

  • rob on December 30, 2013, 11:40 GMT

    @ Jeremy Evans : Yeah, he's a bloody good player young Jimmy. I have really high hopes for him. .. I can't quite put my finger on it but there's something about his game that makes me think he can be something more than just a bit special.

    The only thing that worries me is this perennial 12th man gig he's got. It seems to me he's not actually played many matches at all this summer. .. I don't know about that as a policy. Wouldn't he be better off in domestic cricket getting some overs and batting under his belt. .. I reckon they should just pick the best all round fielder as the 12th man and release everyone else back into the system to get some game time. .. I honestly think he's been robbed of almost a full seasons cricket by carrying the drinks and can't see how that helps hone his considerable skills.

  • zab on December 30, 2013, 8:37 GMT

    Hazelwood and Fawad should be tried in Sydney..

  • Dummy4 on December 30, 2013, 5:18 GMT

    Fuel to any consideration of Faulkner for Sydney if Rhino is rested - Faulkner has only played one test match for Australia, against England at the Oval this year. He dismissed Bell, Prior, Swann and Anderson in the first dig and both Cook and Trott in the second.

  • Dummy4 on December 30, 2013, 4:59 GMT

    The answer = pick James Faulkner. A slippery, left-handed swing bowler and a heavy hitter. Shield player of the year for Tasmania and looking very much like a future superstar.

  • Patrick on December 30, 2013, 2:25 GMT

    Watson's proven he can only score well in tests by playing his big shots, he lacks the concentration and technical subtlety to play a long safe test innings. His nudge square has been put away due to LBW dismissals and now he just get's bogged down and nicks off to the big drive under pressure to get bat on ball. It's down to 6 you must go buddy, you can play strokes with freedom down there in offence or rearguard like Hadds does so well. Hughes has to open in SA with Bucky, Warner to 3 and Bailey to focus on our short form teams after Sydney, no shame at all in that. If Watto can't bowl we can swap in a bowling allrounder and bat Hadds up without the major reshuffles that have supported him inappropriately playing only as a batsmen in the past.

  • No featured comments at the moment.