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Nowadays, it's doing what's best for the squad

THE issue of Shane Watson's availability is called a conundrum, but really it is quite simple. Watson is picked for Australia as an all-rounder. If he is unable to bat and bowl, he cannot play.

The fact that he bats high in the order is irrelevant. It is a long time since a Test team automatically positioned its best batsman at No. 3 and shaped itself around him.

Watson is a good batsman but not Australia's best. He's hard to replace but not irreplaceable. Rob Quiney looked at least worth another look.

The intrigue about Watson arises because of a kind of mystical cricket article of faith that holds that there must always be 11 cricketers in Australia who sit ever so slightly above the rest, that the selectors' remit is to identify them, and that Watson, at present, is one of them. Perhaps this was mildly true once, when good players, when singled out for national selection, spent more time playing and training than their peers, and so at a given time were better equipped to play for Australia.

This would explain the aphorism that it was harder to get out of the Australian team than to get into it, even in the lean times.

About some players, it remains true that when fit they are unassailable: Shane Warne and Glenn McGrath in their time, Ricky Ponting until very recently, but only Michael Clarke now. About them, the ''if selected'' caveat did and does not apply.


For the rest, there is now a large pool of talented cricketers who train and play professionally in myriad competitions. Class is imperishable, of course, but form is ephemeral. At a chosen moment, any one of them might play competently for Australia; any one might meet a need.

It is a thesis that can be tested only in the middle. Subtly, the new selectors appear to be doing this, also breaking the public into an understanding that there is no longer - if there ever was - a magical line that sharply divides internationals from non-internationals, Test cricketers from others.

Previously, an aspiring bowler could expect his chance; injuries made it so. But batsmen could be productive for decades without getting a look in. Sadly, Brad Hodge will die wondering.

Selection now is more fluid, the concept of squad looser. There is no obligation to work from the contract list. In less than a year, Ed Cowan, David Warner, Matthew Wade, James Pattinson and Quiney have been added, and not all were obvious.

The players seem to accept this. Watson, not one to speak in riddles, said he would understand if overlooked for the second Test and set his sights on the third. If selected.

Perhaps cricket has learnt from elsewhere, not in the razzamatazz that the new manager of Etihad Stadium is proposing to copy, lamely, from the US, but from soccer.

The biggest and richest clubs (of which, in cricket, Australia is surely one) have squads. At times they look overstocked and great players battle for opportunities. But seasons are long and hectic and it is rare for all players to be on song at the same time, and eventually all play a part. Clubs without depth fade away.

For cricketers, the season now is also long and tiring, in fact, it is year-round. The next 18 months will be especially frenetic and Australia will need all its Australia-ready players. Yes, the next match always is the most important. But in squad-think, if Watson is not up to his task now, he should not be played. The next match but one is only a week away.