Watson, Marsh duel 'tight' - Lehmann
Shane Watson and Mitchell Marsh will face-off once again for the allrounder's berth in Australia's final warm-up ahead of the first Investec Test against England in Cardiff, after the coach Darren Lehmann said he expected the senior man to be bowling to a strong standard against Essex at Chelmsford in order to retain his place.
Lehmann revealed the XI for Wednesday's four-day match in the minutes after the tourists completed a 255-run defeat of a modest Kent side at Canterbury, where Shaun Marsh, Steven Smith and Mitchell Johnson could feel best pleased with their efforts.
The aforementioned trio will all be rested from the team to face Essex, as Nathan Lyon, Mitchell Starc and Josh Hazlewood come in for their first competitive bowl of the tour while Adam Voges and David Warner are also included. Ryan Harris, Michael Clarke and Chris Rogers will all play again as they seek further match conditioning, but most of the interest will surround how Mitchell Marsh and Watson fare as the days tick down to the Ashes.
Watson has missed four Test matches since Lehmann took over as coach, all of them because he was unfit to bowl. Lehmann stated that he needed to be sending the ball down with decent oomph to make his place safe. "Yeah, like always," Lehmann said. "I thought he bowled really well in the West Indies, for a short amount of time so we know that's important for us especially in England, he shapes the ball nicely so he's going to have to bowl well.
"It's going to be tight, isn't it. I thought Marsh was exceptional in the innings as was Shane Watson to be perfectly honest. We need Watto bowling and he'll definitely bowl in the next tour game so that's going to be a key for us as well. So both pushed their claims really well."
Strong competition for places in the Australian XI was highlighted by the way Johnson stepped up on a flat pitch to bowl perhaps his swiftest spells since South Africa in February 2014. It was a striking display that pleased Lehmann, who has always placed a premium on high pace among his seam bowlers and has dropped numerous players in the past if he has not thought them able to provide it.
Harris was somewhat patchier, and Lehmann concurred with his former South Australia's team-mate's view that there were no "credits" for players around the Australian side. "No credits for players as far as we're concerned," he said. "In the two Test matches in the West Indies the three quicks who played there got 40 wickets for us so that's really pleasing. At the end of the day Ryan Harris has got to be fully fit and if he's doing that then he's a big part of our side or squad going forward.
"He's got to prove to us he can bowl 20 overs in an innings or roughly about that and make sure he's ready to go. If he can do that he certainly comes into consideration. He's obviously been one of our greats in these conditions and at the end of the day we've got to pick the best attack and if that's with him in that's with him in, if it's not it's not."
There was also an incredulous remark or two from Lehmann about the words of Stuart Broad, who had contended that the promotion of Smith to No. 3 would leave his idiosyncratic technique vulnerable to the new Dukes ball in English conditions. Lehmann did not quite roll his eyes at the suggestion, but he was not far off doing so.
"I thought this sledging stuff was supposed to stop," he quipped. "There's a lot of sledging going on in the media. They're allowed to have their comments, I'm not too worried about that. I think Steven Smith's a pretty good player - I think he got 199 at No. 3 the other week.
"It's pretty much always swung in the history of the game here in England and you've got to be a good player to make runs. I think Steven Smith is a good player."
As for a bus trip to Colchester while England were plotting their own plans with the new coach Trevor Bayliss at a Spanish resort, Lehmann showed precious little interest. "I don't know, don't want to know - I don't care," he said. "I only worry about us to be perfectly honest.
"We've got to worry about how we are going to produce really good cricket in England because we haven't won here for 14 years and that's our focus. We are not worried too much about England. We've got to worry about getting it right day and day out on the training track and getting better at the game of cricket, because that's how you improve."
Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @danbrettig