SHANE WATSON has admitted he risks missing another full summer of Test cricket if he returns too soon, as he pushes to be considered as a specialist batsman for the Adelaide Test.
The drama surrounding Watson's calf injury has dominated the build-up to the second Test against South Africa, and the all-rounder's hopes of playing nosedived on Monday when he declared he would not be able to bowl in Adelaide.
Since team performance manager Pat Howard said Watson needed to be bowling to command a place in the team against the Proteas, debate has raged about whether Watson is one of the best six batsmen in the country.
Watson still has hurdles to clear over the next two days if he is to show he can play a long innings and sprint in the field. Even if he does that, he has come back to the pack in the selectors' eyes, and said he would accept the selectors' decision if they preferred to stick with Victorian batsman Rob Quiney at No.3.
The 31-year-old also admitted the ramifications of coming back too soon could be another lost summer, having missed all six Tests against India and New Zealand with soft-tissue injuries last season.
''I'm definitely going to have to up the intensity [to prove his fitness]. If everything goes well and I get selected, I need to make sure I'm going to be able to handle a Test match,'' Watson said. ''I know how important this match is to everyone involved and the viewing public as well, so I need to make sure I am as good as 100 per cent to give myself the best chance of getting through the Test without stirring it up again because that would be the worst case scenario if that happened for everyone, let alone for the rest of the summer as well. I certainly wouldn't want to let the team down.''
Watson's extended absences have also exposed a leadership void in the team. Cricket Australia has not named an alternative vice-captain but Ricky Ponting would act as skipper if Michael Clarke had to leave the field or was injured.
Brad Haddin filled in as deputy last summer, and his experience was highly valued, but he has since lost his place to Matthew Wade. For his part, Watson does not intend to relinquish a role he considers a privilege rather than a burden. The pivotal all-rounder claimed he had not been told he needed to be bowling to be assured of selection.
''The most important thing is to be able to get out there and run around and show I can do that. Hopefully I can, then it depends what the selectors want to do.''
Nor does he believe the expectations of him as a bowler have changed since Clarke took over from Ponting as captain, although Clarke has made several references to Australia defeating India 4-0 without his deputy, and about his importance to the team resting on his bowling.
''There's no doubt if I am playing and batting No.3 it means it is slightly different to opening the batting, and Ricky always made sure I was as fresh as I possibly could be going into the second innings or if we were batting second. Michael has been exactly the same as well,'' Watson said.
''If that's what Michael and the selectors think is the best balance for the team, I'm not going to [complain]. I'd love to be out there, but if that's the best balance of the team, that's exactly what's best for the team, and I'm comfortable with that, because the thing I love doing more than anything is being an all-rounder, being able to contribute with bat and ball whenever I'm fit, and I know that's my value to a team more than just batting. There's no doubt the way Adelaide Oval is as well, it's fairly conducive to run-scoring, so the bowling options will certainly help Michael out if things don't go exactly to plan.''
Watson, who has made two centuries, is about to find out whether the selectors regard him as one of the top six batsmen in the country.
''I certainly do love batting at the top of the order but in the end words don't mean anything,'' he said. ''What matters is what you do out on the field. I'm not going to say either way because if I get the opportunity I've got to get out there and score runs because that's what is going to prove it.''
■ India defeated England in the opening Test at Sardar Patel Stadium on Monday. Chasing 77 after England were bowled out for 406 in their second innings, the hosts ticked off the runs for the loss of just one wicket within 16 overs.
■ Sri Lanka beat New Zealand by 10 wickets in the first Test in Galle on Monday to take a 1-0 lead in the two-match series. The hosts effortlessly chased down a 93-run target midway through the third day, with debutant Dimuth Karunaratne remaining unbeaten on 60 and Tharanga Paranavitana 31 not out.
with AAP, AFP