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June 26, 2013
Shane Watson will open the batting for Australia in the first Test against England at Trent Bridge, the new national team coach, Darren Lehmann, has said. In an unmistakable indicator of the stamp Lehmann is placing on the team in the wake of the deposed Mickey Arthur, Watson was instantly moved to the top of the order for the tour match against Somerset before a frank declaration that the allrounder would be staying there for the Investec Ashes, runs permitting.
Nottingham will thus be the first time Watson has opened for Australia in a Test match since the second Test against South Africa in Johannesburg in November 2011. There has been much debate over Watson's best place in the team ever since, heightened by his lack of runs in posts other than that at the top of the order, where he flourished under Ricky Ponting's captaincy from 2009 to 2011. Lehmann left little doubt he felt it was Watson's best position.
"Shane, yeah, he'll be opening for us," Lehmann said. "That's where we want him to bat and he's done really well for us there and we're quite keen for him to open and to have a big part in the Ashes and obviously make a lot of runs for us and start the innings up well.
"He's been up and down the order but his most success has been as an opener. We hope he gets a big score here for us tomorrow and see how we go. You need good starts to make big scores against a good side so we need him to give us good starts to put pressure on England.
"We've talked about wanting blokes to perform and if you perform you'll have a chance to play in the first Test. We want to give everyone in our squad the opportunity to perform well in the tour games and that's what we're about."
Watson missed the remainder of the 2011-12 summer with hamstring and calf injuries before returning to the Test team at No. 3 in the West Indies, later moving to No. 4. He struggled to balance his batting with the level of bowling required of him by Clarke, and a sequence of injuries, poor batting form and general discontent followed. Lehmann and Clarke have now granted Watson the chance he craved.
At the same time they have also opened up plenty of conjecture about the remainder of the batting order. Cowan is Watson's opening partner at Taunton but Chris Rogers waits in the wings, while David Warner's return to the team after suspension would now appear more likely to be as a middle-order player.
Watson did not bowl on day one of the Somerset fixture but Lehmann said this was intended to allow the other five bowlers chosen the maximum chance of running into form and rhythm ahead of the Tests. "We want to have a look at the other four bowlers, and that's the only reason," Lehmann said. "But he'll bowl next game no dramas."
Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets hereFeeds: Daniel Brettig
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Stats highlights from the fourth ODI between India and West Indies in Dharamsala