Watson hopeful for Oval bowling role
Shane Watson hopes to bowl in the nets on Monday as he aims to prove his fitness for an all-round role in the final Investec Ashes Test at The Oval, which starts on Wednesday. Watson did not bowl during Australia's two-day tour match against England Lions in Northampton, which finished in a rain and bad light-affected draw on Saturday, after he suffered an injury to his right groin halfway through his 19th over in the Test loss at Chester-le-Street.
However, Watson was able to bat and run between the wickets unimpeded in the second innings of that Test and again during Australia's disappointing effort in Northampton, where he top scored with 45 from 44 deliveries. After the match, Watson said working with the team doctor Peter Brukner had given him confidence that he would be able to continue with the heavy bowling workload that has led to him sending down 80.3 overs in the series so far.
"The injury I got during the Test match is something that just occasionally pops up in my groin," Watson said. "It's something that does settle down pretty quickly, so hopefully I'll be bowling and building it up to be able to make sure I can do a job in the Test match. I think the plan is at the moment to be able to bowl on Monday and make sure I'm confident to be able to do a job in the Test match.
"The great thing here is the doctor we've got here is someone who has made a significant difference to my body. The techniques he's using to be able to release the tension that builds up in muscles has made a huge difference throughout this whole series so far, with what he's been doing with this groin injury that does flare up occasionally but does settle down quicker than my calf or hamstring issues."
If Watson was unable to bowl at The Oval it would place his position in the team in doubt, given his lack of big scores in Test cricket over the past two years and the selectors' desire to have a fifth bowling option. Watson looked good in scoring his 45 against England Lions, mostly against the spin of Simon Kerrigan, but like the rest of the batsmen he failed to go on after making a start.
The match was particularly important for Usman Khawaja, the incumbent Test No.3, and for Phillip Hughes, the man who could replace him at The Oval. Khawaja edged behind for 4 and Hughes made a scratchy 30, and while it was notable that Hughes came in at first drop and Khawaja down at No.6, Watson, the stand-in captain, said that was a decision that had come down from the team management.
"I'm a ring-in captain so I have no idea, absolutely none," he said of the batting order. "I'm told where we're all to bat and we moved on. I know not to interpret things. It might get me into trouble."
That no player managed a half-century was far from the result the Australians wanted after their capitulation at Chester-le-Street. Nathan Lyon bowled impressively on the first day in Northampton and Mitchell Starc was reasonable enough, but Watson said apart from the fact that most batsmen had at least got starts, there was little to take out of the batting display.
"The wicket with the new ball provided a few challenges," he said. "It wasn't a Test match wicket, that's for sure, so it's hard to get a gauge of exactly where guys are at. In the end I think it was just more a case of getting out there and trying to put in a decent performance. In the end we probably haven't got a hell of a lot out of this game from the batting side of things.
"From the bowling side of things I thought Nathan Lyon bowled extremely well, especially in the first part of his spell. Mitchell Starc bowled really well with the new ball so there are some very positive signs out of this as well."
Brydon Coverdale is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here