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It's all-round confusion as CA sends mixed messages over Watson

Date

Geoff Lawson

AT CRICKET Australia's high-performance department, the metaphorical right hand is not exactly sure what the left hand is doing, or, in Shane Watson's case, what the left calf/hamstring/quadriceps muscle (insert appropriate body part here) is doing.

The ultimate authority in the playing of the game throughout Australia, the general manager team performance, former Wallaby Pat Howard, has changed his tune in the past few weeks when it comes to Watson's status.

A month ago, Watson was considered so valuable, indispensable in fact, that he was ordered home from the CA co-owned Twenty20 Champions League in South Africa. Ostensibly this move was about ensuring proper preparation for the Test series. Watson was in imperious form (Twenty20 style) in the early rounds for the Sydney Sixers.

It was not made clear whether Watson was coming back to Sydney to rest, get treatment or as I, in my cricketing naivety, assumed, to play longer matches such as club cricket or in a second XI match for New South Wales. This schedule would have given him a better physical, technical and mental build-up. The reality was he was limited to the gym and a few net sessions before heading to Brisbane for the Sheffield Shield game.

There was unease within the Blues camp at Watson's pre-match preparation, particularly his lack of running and subsequent injury and failure to bat in the second innings when an extra 50 runs may have won the match. Team priorities and competitive instincts were questioned but it is not known what role, if any, CA's high performance directives played.

Michael Clarke stated after Watson's omission from the first Test team that he was no certainty to come straight back into the team for the second Test. This after he was to be considered for selection solely on batting terms, pre-supposing that his gammy calf could stand the stress of a long innings but not a six-ball over.

There is no doubt Watson's bowling is a terrific asset for any team. Captains love to have the extra option of a batsman who is a genuine bowler, such as Jacques Kallis. Watson was brought into the Test team in the 2009 Ashes at the expense of a terribly unlucky Phil Hughes, not because Hughes was out of form but because Mitchell Johnson couldn't hit the cut strip.

But if Watson tears another muscle while bowling (or batting for that matter) he becomes an albatross around the team's neck. Through no fault of his own, the injury J.P. Duminy sustained during the Brisbane Test was a significant factor in the pressure Australia exerted on day five. The match became 10 versus 11. Duminy was chosen to bat and bowl; he was the sole spinner for his team and a top-order batsman.

Howard's press conference last Wednesday was given by the left hand. Watson now was only to be considered as a batsman. Oh, and a bowler. If he couldn't play long innings and send down six deliveries then he wasn't in the mix.

Stand-by batting coach and right hand Stuart Law disagreed with his boss publicly - a dangerous move if you want the job permanently. The former Queensland record run-scorer had a point, even though we all would like Watson to convert the copious 50s he has scored into hundreds and an average much better than 37. He has averaged 25 in his last eight Tests.

It would be correct for Watson to be rated in the top-six batsmen in Australia if he could stay on the park long enough. There has been plenty of recent discussion over fast-bowling injuries, rotation, techniques and treatment but Watson's injuries severely threaten his batting career besides muddling the selectors' thinking.

Remembering that only three Australians made runs in the first Test, Watson at first drop is a nice cushion if he can physically manage a long occupation. He has the shots but does he have the body?

With Usman Khawaja and Hughes back in some threatening form the Australian recipe has some refreshed ingredients. Three weeks ago, Watson was indispensable and there was a famine of batting, there was no one to replace Ricky Ponting. This week the crop is ripening.

Watson is in the 13-man squad for the second Test and will have to pass several fitness tests to get into the starting XI. Left-handed chairman of selectors John Inverarity reckons he will be selected purely on a batting basis. I imagine he would have to bat for a long time in the nets on Monday, back that up with another hour split into a couple of spells of bowling and then do it all again on Tuesday, and then pull up well enough to be ready for Thursday.

The proper method to check his fitness would be to make him play a state or club game under competitive pressures. One senses that Clarke will not be keen to play Watson unless he is 100 per cent and then a little more.

But will the selectors, the high performance head, the medical staff, the coach and the captain be reading the script with the same eyes and turning the pages with the same hand when they decide on the starting XI come Thursday?

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