The Investec Ashes 2013 August 13, 2013

Caution surrounds Harris' Oval prospects

Ryan Harris is no certainty to play in the final Investec Ashes Test at The Oval as Australia's selectors consider his long-term importance ahead of the home Ashes series later this year. Harris was outstanding at Chester-le-Street, where his seven-wicket haul in the second innings and nine for the match gave Australia a victory chance that was not grasped by the batsmen, but the 47 overs he bowled was the most he has ever sent down in a Test.

His relentless speed, accuracy and aggression caused problems for England's batsmen and despite having not played in the first Test at Trent Bridge, Harris is now Australia's leading wicket taker in the series with 20 victims at 19.25 and is second only to Graeme Swann from either side. But his injury history - this is the first time he has ever made it through three consecutive Tests unscathed - will be considered by the selectors in the lead-up to The Oval.

"We would love him to play," coach Darren Lehmann said. "He is exceptional. The extra day would be good because there's only a week before the next game. To be perfectly honest, we will be extra careful with him. We have to make sure he is right come the next Test series.

"He is so valuable to us, as he showed in the past few games. We would have loved to have played him in the first Test but he wasn't quite right. He has shown his value since then. If he is in any doubt of getting through he won't play."

Harris is without question an impact bowler, the kind of man who can run through a batting line-up, and he has collected 67 wickets at 22.32 in his 15 Test appearances. Harris has missed far more Tests than he has played but has still managed to bustle his way into the top ten of the ICC Test bowling rankings, sitting at No.7, behind Dale Steyn, Vernon Philander, Rangana Herath, Saeed Ajmal, Peter Siddle and Swann.

"He's top three or four I reckon," Lehmann said. "But that's a totally biased opinion isn't it, I've had him for years [as coach of Queensland]. I just reckon he's outstanding in what he gives to the team and how he bowls and he just gets good players out, doesn't he? The wickets he's got have been high end all series. He's blown England away a few times."

Should Australia rest Harris the logical replacement would be Mitchell Starc, who has bowled well in patches during this series, including a searching spell of reverse swing at Old Trafford. Starc made way for Jackson Bird at Chester-le-Street and while Bird also bowled well at times, swinging the ball away and building pressure, he also lacked the pace to offer the kind of threat posed by Harris.

"I thought he was good in patches," Lehmann said of Bird. "He was really good at certain stages of the game and then bowled poorly in other patches and he knows that. He's a great young kid. Hopefully he'll get his chance to bowl again at The Oval and impress again."

The make-up of Australia's attack will also depend on the fitness of Shane Watson, who has developed into their first-change option this series due to his accuracy and economy. The Australians believe they need a fifth bowler and after Watson left the field halfway through one of his overs on Sunday with pain in his right hip/groin region, there remains uncertainty over whether he will be able to bowl at The Oval.

If Watson is unable to bowl it would be difficult for him to keep his place as a batsman only, despite his impressive first-innings 68 at Chester-le-Street. One possibility would be to include James Faulkner or Ashton Agar as a bowling allrounder at No.7 and move Brad Haddin up to No.6, but such decisions will not be considered until Australia find out more about the injury to Watson, who fielded and batted after suffering the pain.

"I'll sum that up with the medical staff in the next couple of days," Lehmann said. "I hope he's bowling. That's what he's picked in the side to do, bat and bowl. And I thought he bowled really well in the first innings and batted well. But we need him bowling. We like to have five bowlers. England can have four at the moment because we're not batting well enough at the moment and that's a simple fact of life.

"He'd be a chance [to play as a batsman only] because he played very well but he's got to value add and he value adds when he's bowling. So we'll just have to sit down and see how he goes."

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