Shane Watson has stood down as Australia's vice-captain across all formats three months out from the Ashes, declaring that he wants to focus his attention on his own performance. Watson's role as Michael Clarke's deputy was the subject of significant public debate during the recent Test tour to India when he was one of four players suspended for a match for failing to complete a task set by the coach Mickey Arthur.
Later the same day, Watson flew to Sydney for the birth of his first child and while checking out of the team hotel said he would use his time at home to weigh up his cricketing future. However, a few days later Watson committed himself to the team in the long term and rejoined the squad in Delhi, where he captained Australia in the fourth Test when Clarke was unavailable due to his back injury.
But during that match, Watson's disappointing run of batting form continued and he finished the tour with 99 runs at an average of 16.50, a miserable return given that he had chosen to embark on the trip as a batsman only. Watson has not scored a Test century since October 2010 and since becoming vice-captain in 2011 he has managed only 627 Test runs at 24.11.
"Making the decision to step down wasn't easy but it's something I've been thinking about since the Test series against India ended," Watson said. "I think it's the right time for a change for both the team and me. I'll be honest and admit I wrestled with the decision for some time, however once I made up my mind, I informed Cricket Australia so the selectors could consider their options for the Ashes given the squads will be announced soon.
"I want to be the best Test player I can be for Australia and think I can do that by stepping down from the vice-captaincy to focus my attention on scoring runs, taking wickets and doing whatever is necessary to help the team achieve success. I won't be the vice-captain in title but I think I can still be a leader and strong contributor around the group.
"Yesterday I rang John Inverarity, Mickey Arthur and Michael Clarke to advise them of my decision and they respect that decision and agree with me that this is the best outcome for me and the team. I thank Cricket Australia for the leadership opportunity over the past two years and I'm really looking forward to this next phase. In my conversations with Mickey and Michael I reaffirmed my commitment to the team and support for them as we fight to win back the Ashes and get back to being ranked number one in the world."
John Inverarity, the national selector, said: "Shane Watson should be commended for making the tough call to step down from the vice-captaincy to focus on playing. Regardless, he will still be an important senior leader within the team. The national selection panel will now consider and then put a vice-captaincy recommendation to the Cricket Australia Board for its approval."
Watson was named vice-captain to Clarke in March 2011 after Ricky Ponting stood down as the team's leader. He filled in as Australia's captain in nine one-day internationals for five victories as well as leading in the Delhi Test.

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