The Investec Ashes 2013 August 6, 2013

Watson's opening role under scanner

Shane Watson's rebirth as a Test opener could be short-lived with Australia's brains trust considering reinstating David Warner at the top of the order for the fourth Test in Chester-le-Street. At the start of the series, the coach Darren Lehmann declared that Watson and Chris Rogers would be Australia's Ashes openers but Watson's failure to pass a score of fifty in five innings in the position, combined with Warner's return from exile in South Africa, could encourage a rethink.

Warner batted at No.6 in the first innings in Manchester but was promoted for the second innings as the Australians sought quick runs, while Watson moved down to No.4. Rogers outplayed Watson in the first innings with a perky 84 that showed he is not just an occupier, and his experience and composure makes him a potentially important man at the top for the rest of this tour and the return series in Australia later this year.

Like Warner, Watson enjoys the ball coming on to the bat but his lbw vulnerability has been an issue, and his diminishing returns while opening in this series - 46, 30, 20 and 19 - have been far from what Australia have needed. Lehmann said the second-innings change was not due to Watson's form but to allow him to attack Graeme Swann in the middle order and give Warner free rein at the top, and it was a method they would consider using again in the fourth Test.

"We may do, yeah, but at the end of the day, it's the selectors getting together and making that decision," Lehmann said. "We always consult the captain about what he considers is the best batting order as well, so for us we'll make that decision once we see the wicket in Durham."

For his part, the captain Michael Clarke said the decision on where to use Watson was "a tough one" given the dual factors of his comfort at the top and his usefulness as a bowler. But the fact remains that Watson has now played 45 Test innings since the most recent of his two centuries, which came against India in Mohali in October 2010, and his 2013 batting average of 20.41 is the worst he has managed in the past five years.

"Watto has made it clear to me and everyone that he loves opening the batting," Clarke said. "The positive with Shane Watson is that he is such a good bowler. It's a tough one, we have to work out first and foremost what is the best for the team and then give Watto the opportunity to play where he feels most comfortable and where he thinks he can have the most success - because if he is scoring runs and taking wickets, it goes a long way to helping us win Test matches.

"We will continue to talk and assess what is best for the team. Shane understood my reasoning for opening with Warner in the second innings and was more than happy to move to No.4, and has made it clear that wherever I want him to bat, he will do that for the team."

The other major question of team make-up for the selectors ahead of Chester-le-Street is whether Ryan Harris can back up with only a three-day break between matches. Harris has struggled with a wide variety of injuries throughout his short Test career and the only time he has ever completed three consecutive Tests was during the last Ashes in Australia in 2010-11, when he broke down in the third of those matches with a serious ankle injury.

"I think he has a reasonable chance now, he hasn't bowled today," Lehmann said after the final day at Old Trafford. "If he'd bowled today, I wouldn't think he would be a chance at all so again we'll just have to see how he pulls up on the travel day and see how he goes at training."

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

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