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