Father-to-be Watson adds to selection headaches
Shane Watson ... expected to put family before cricket. Photo: Sebastian Costanzo
SHANE WATSON is expected to put family before country and could miss a Test during the tour of India to fly home for the birth of his first child, creating another dilemma for national selectors.
And Ben Hilfenhaus also appears to be losing his race against the clock to earn selection for the four-Test series.
Watson and his wife Lee Furlong are expecting the arrival of their first child in March, raising the potential for a clash with Australia's Test schedule in India. The vice-captain, a likely inclusion if fit to tour the subcontinent, may sit out the third or fourth Test, although he could also play both games if his wife gave birth between matches.
Ricky Ponting missed the second Test on a tour of Sri Lanka in 2011 so he could be present for the birth of his and wife Rianna's second child. Watson's potential unavailability for parts of the tour is another factor selectors must take into account as they plan for life after Michael Hussey, whose retirement has left a hole in Australia's batting line-up.
Selectors have been scratching their heads over how to replace the experienced and dependable Hussey and the best spot for Watson in the batting order now he is not bowling. Watson was moved from first drop to No.4 in his two Tests against Sri Lanka as it was felt the position would better accommodate his bowling. But, now that he is taking an indefinite break from bowling, team management is considering restoring Watson as an opener, where he averages nearly 44 from 24 matches, as opposed to Ed Cowan's 33 from 13 games.
Such a move would break up Cowan's opening partnership with David Warner, which was last year's most prolific in world cricket, and possibly endanger the adopted Tasmanian's position in the XI.
Watson had stated before his move from opener in late 2011 that his preferred position was at the top of the order. Used primarily as a partnership breaker towards the end of Ponting's reign as captain, Watson was able to stay injury-free for two years after earning an international recall in the 2009 Ashes series. But he has struggled to cope with the extra bowling workload placed on him by Michael Clarke in the past 18 months.
Although chairman of selectors John Inverarity's panel is now judging Watson as a specialist batsman, the selectors are keen for him to resume bowling.
Watson, who has taken 48 wickets at 28 since his return in 2009, will not bowl in the next two months but the door remains ajar for him to play a role with the ball in the Ashes later this year, although it's unlikely he will bowl extensively as he has this summer.
The 31-year-old is aiming to return for the ODI series against West Indies, starting February 1, but he could also make a comeback via the Sheffield Shield.
Meanwhile, Hilfenhaus has been withdrawn from the Hobart Hurricanes' squad as he continues his recovery from a side strain he suffered during the first Test last month. The move has diminished Hilfenhaus's chances of inclusion in Australia's touring party for India next month.
The Tasmanian swingman, who has been overtaken by Jackson Bird in the national pecking order, is eyeing a return on January 27 in the Tigers' one-day game against Queensland in Brisbane. But with Tasmania not due to play their next Shield game until February 6, Hilfenhaus may not get a chance to prove his fitness before the national squad leaves on February 9.
''He probably won't be fit by then, he won't have bowled enough,'' said Tasmania coach Tim Coyle. ''[They're] probably targeting the Ashes now, I reckon, for him. There'll be more injuries and players will break down, he's just got to get himself right.''