Captain Michael Clarke (left) talks to Shane Watson during an Australian training session at Adelaide Oval on Wednesday at Adelaide, Australia © Getty Images
The much-awaited Test series between Australia and South Africa began with the first Test at Brisbane ending in a well-contested draw. The game saw everything except a result, with centuries from Jacques Kallis and Hashim Amla, a maiden Test century for Australia’s Ed Cowan and, of course, a brilliant double from Michael Clarke, which made the Australian captain the only batsman other than Donald Bradman to score two double centuries and one triple century in the same calendar year.
The second Test commencing on Thursday promises yet another draining battle between two sides – one the current No 1 in Tests, and the other that has been at the top for the longest period till not ago.
In a bid to add to their batting strengths and experience to the line-up, the Aussies seem to be pondering over the idea of rushing Shane Watson back into the side, even if only half fit. If Watson’s experience is put aside, he has struggled in the longest format of the game in the recent past. While he enjoyed a purple patch in the recently-concluded T20 World Cup and has been a consistent performer in both ODIs and T20s, his Test form has been rather poor owing to his recurring injuries. In fact, Australia have been without Watson in their last seven home games.
His most recent injury came when he played a First-Class match, his first in six months, where he limped off the ground after bowling just six deliveries. This injury ruled him out of the first Test with a calf strain and he has been fighting against time to make for to the Adelaide Test starting on Thursday.
Even if he manages to pass all the fitness tests that Cricket Australia have lined up for him to undergo on Wednesday, he may still not be 100% match fit. This is evident as he himself went on record stating that he may not be able to bowl for a while.
Although the idea of playing Watson purely as a batsman doesn’t look like that bad an idea, it’s a dilemma that Cricket Australia can easily do without. With the inexperienced Rob Quiney at No 3 and an out-of-sorts Ricky Ponting at No 4, throwing a half-fit Shane Watson into the side seems like a safe option, but his lack of complete fitness could repercussions on his batting too.
If Watson, an all-rounder who is often expected to bowl long spells and come back to hold an innings at No 3, is not fit enough to bowl, what makes him fit enough to face a bowling attack that is considered second to none today? How is he fit enough to give Michael Clarke the much-needed depth in the batting order but not fulfill his bowling duties at the same time? Such questions are what the board can easily avoid. Looking at the kind of bold decisions that Cricket Australia have taken in the past, the decision to keep Shane Watson out of this game seems like a no-brainer.
To be fair, Quiney did well for his 85 when the visitors played against Australia A and was certainly looking like he could get his eye in before Dale Steyn pulled off a stunner at the fine-leg boundary to dismiss the debutant. Clarke is better off giving Quiney another crack at No 3 and have Watson regain complete fitness to face the Proteas in the final Test at Perth starting on November 30.