Confusion surrounds Watson over selection

FORMER Test captain Mark Taylor believes Shane Watson remains one of Australia’s top six batsmen but argues it is a risk to the team if he is picked anywhere short of full fitness.

Watson, 31, has been the subject of mixed messages from the Australian management over his recovery from a calf strain, after captain Michael Clarke and coach Mickey Arthur initially didn’t rule out playing him as a specialist batsman against the Proteas but high-performance chief Pat Howard then saying publicly he must be fit enough to bowl, too.

Unlike before the Gabba Test, when he was scratched early in the week and replaced by Rob Quiney, it appears Watson will be given until closer to the second Test, starting next Thursday in Adelaide, to be cleared to play.

However, there has been consternation about Howard’s declaration that selectors would not consider him against South Africa as a specialist batsman, and not all in the Australian set-up agree with the stance. The question has been this: if Watson is not regarded as one of Australia’s top-six batsman in his own right, why has he been batting at No. 3?

Watson received the backing of a couple of former captains on Thursday. Ian Chappell said it was ”ridiculous” if he was not regarded as one of Australia’s top-six batsmen. Taylor, meanwhile, believes Watson does deserve inclusion in the Australian XI on the merits of his run-scoring alone, but said the physical challenges of batting should not be overlooked.

”Even if he makes the top six, which I think he probably does, is he going to be able to make a Test match 100? That’s the thing that I think everyone should be focusing on,” Taylor said.

”Bowling or not, if he runs between the wickets and does something to that calf again, he becomes a burden on the side. I think it’s probably as much to do with that as his bowling.

”You saw how long Michael Clarke batted for this week. You try and make 200 and not sprint and change direction and do all those sorts of things, just the sort of things that could tear a calf muscle. I think we’re focusing too much on his bowling. I think he probably does make the top six but I think the risk that they run is if he’s not 100 per cent fit and he breaks down during the game. Then not only is he not bowling but he’s not batting in the Test either.”

There was further confusion about Howard’s comments on Wednesday, saying Quiney’s medium-pace bowling worked to his advantage at the selection table, adding extra balance to the team. The Victorian bowled 11 overs at the Gabba but is pedestrian at best and a long way from being considered an all-rounder by even his state, who had bowled him only sparingly in the past. Clarke’s non-committal pre-Test position, suggesting Watson was no certainty to return to the side for Adelaide even if fit, also raised eyebrows.

Watson is in Brisbane working with his personal physiotherapist Victor Popov, who reports daily on his progress back to Australian team physio Alex Kountouris. He has not begun bowling in practice again yet and that may not happen until Monday, only three days before the second Test begins.

He has been criticised for his Test conversion rate – reaching 50 on 20 occasions in 35 Tests but going on to make only two hundreds – and for the fact he averages only 25 in his past eight Tests.

Taylor argues he remains a vital cog in the Australian machine but must produce on his potential. ”If they pick Shane Watson they don’t just want a guy that’s going to make the top six. They want a guy who is going to make 150-plus,” he said.

Chappell was less diplomatic, unable to comprehend how the all-rounder had apparently been demoted in selectors’ eyes.

”If I’m a selector picking the Australia XI and Shane Watson is not in the best six batsmen, I’ve been watching a different game,” Chappell said. ”He has proven himself as a batsman, but they have made it pretty clear they don’t want to play him just as a batsman. It’s ridiculous if he is not ranked in the top-six batsmen in Australia.”

The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Hangzhou Night Net.

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