MICHAEL CLARKE has tried to clear the air of rumblings about friction between himself and his vice-captain Shane Watson, and defended the decision to keep the injured all-rounder with the squad when his quest to be fit for Thursday's Adelaide Test appeared doomed.
Watson was finally ruled out of the second Test against South Africa on Wednesday, three days after admitting he would be unable to bowl in Adelaide. He continued to press for selection as a specialist batsman, although Clarke had made it clear before the series began that Watson needed to be bowling to be assured of a place.
In announcing an unchanged XI for Adelaide, the captain said there had been no disagreement between the pair about his preparation for Test cricket or his role within the team, and described his relationship with Watson as strong.
''We have a great relationship, firstly. I know there's been talk of that being a little bit different but Watto and I, our friendship and our professional relationship when it comes to captain and vice-captain is as close as I can certainly ask for,'' Clarke said.
''We spoke daily even before we flew to Adelaide as a team, and I was kept well and truly in the loop as to how he was travelling and what he was doing preparation-wise. Once we got here our intent was to give 'Watto' every single chance as a very important player and vice-captain of the team to walk out on to this park for the second Test match. Unfortunately, we've run out of time.''
Rob Quiney will get another chance to show his stuff at No.3, and Clarke did not think the daily drama around Watson's quest for fitness had distracted the team.
''I think the intent was great that Watto plus support staff, plus the team want him back out on the park, want him playing because we know how important he is to our group as a player,'' Clarke said. ''I don't think the speculation has had any impact on the team. The guys have all gone about their work as well as they can. Rob Quiney still did all his preparation, so I don't think it's had an effect.''
It is hoped that Watson will be fit to bat and bowl in the third Test in Perth, starting on November 30.
Perceptions of a distanced relationship between the two gathered strength when Clarke said before the series that the all-rounder was not indispensable, pointing to last summer's 4-0 series win over India without him.
''That is Watto's feeling as well. He wants to be an all-rounder. He knows the impact he has with both bat and ball, and he's a huge part of our squad when he is doing both very well. So our plans are to try and get him to 100 per cent, knowing we've got eight days now before the third Test in Perth,'' Clarke said.
Australia will try to break the 0-0 deadlock in Adelaide with the same bowling attack that recovered from a bad start in Brisbane.
Ben Hilfenhaus fended off a challenge from left-armer Mitchell Starc despite struggling for effectiveness at the Gabba, and Clarke admitted the selectors were tempted to bring Starc into the XI.
''[But] our attack improved as the game went on in Brisbane, and this attack has had some success especially last summer against India in these conditions. We're confident we've picked the right attack to take 20 wickets,'' Clarke said.
South Africa have recalled leg-spinner Imran Tahir for fourth seamer Rory Kleinveldt, and replaced injured batsman J.P. Duminy with Faf du Plessis, who will make his Test debut.