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Michael Clarke has not given up hope of Shane Watson returning to India for the fourth Test in Delhi, despite the vice-captain's indications that he is considering his cricket future. Watson arrived in Sydney on Tuesday night for the birth of his first child, although his departure from Chandigarh also coincided with him being one of four players stood down from the Australia team for this week's third Test due to their failure to complete a task set by the coach Mickey Arthur.
When he left India, Watson said he would use his time at home to weigh up his cricket future, which given his new family commitments was taken as a suggestion that long Test tours might no longer be on his radar. However, Clarke and Watson spoke on the phone after Watson landed in Sydney and Clarke said the best-case scenario for Australia was that Watson could still return to India in time for the final Test in Delhi, which starts on Friday next week.
"I think Watto has made it clear to everybody that that's something he's thinking about while he's home," Clarke said of Watson's cricket future. "From my point of view he's vice-captain of this team and he's a big part of this team, there's no doubt about that. From the conversation Watto and I have had, 100% he has gone home for the birth of his first child, which is very exciting for him. I know he's really excited about that.
"Hopefully all goes to plan there, Lee has the baby in the next few days and Watto is back here playing the fourth Test as our vice-captain. That's the best-case scenario from my point of view and from the team's point of view. The rest is really up to Shane."
The Watson situation was complicated by a press conference in which Cricket Australia's general manager of team performance, Pat Howard, said that Watson was a team player "sometimes" and alluded to issues between Watson and Clarke. Watson responded by saying that Howard did not know him well and that his relationship with Clarke had its ups and downs but that things were going well between them at the moment.
Clarke was careful not to be drawn too far into the debate on the eve of the Mohali Test, but he said he was sure Watson and Howard would be in communication while Watson was at home. Clarke was doing his best to focus firmly on the third Test against India, which Australia could enter with as few as 12 available players due to Watson, James Pattinson, Mitchell Johnson and Usman Khawaja being suspended, and Matthew Wade battling an ankle injury.
"I'm not going to get into that," Clarke said. "I don't think it's fair to Watto and I don't think it's fair to Pat that I get involved in that. Watto has been around for a long time. Pat has been around sport for a very long time. I know those two will be in communication. For me the focus is this team and trying to have success in these two Test matches.
"I think the most important thing is that this group looks forward. The decision has been made. The players have accepted and respect the decision that has been made, and now we're trying to do what the most important thing is and have success in this Test match. I think it would be very stupid of me to look backwards. I don't think right now, a day out before the Test, I can afford to do that.
"Watto made it clear yesterday that me and him have known each other for such a long period of time. The players respect the position I'm in as captain and that this decision isn't personal. We made the decision irrelevant to the four players' names. It was because we thought it was best for the team that we made that decision."