AS SHANE WATSON considers giving up bowling, even his teammates are starting to acknowledge his days as a Test all-rounder may be numbered.
The vice-captain's revelation that he would weigh up his future with the ball has been endorsed by veteran Michael Hussey, who believes Watson can thrive as a specialist batsman for Australia without the burden of dual responsibilities and the constant strain bowling puts on his fragile body.
''I think it's a bit of a weight off his shoulders, just to maybe take the bowling out of his game and concentrate on his batting,'' Hussey told the Nine Network. ''He's got a great record at first-class level with his batting, so let's hope he can perform very well as a batsman and can still play some great innings for Australia.''
Watson will miss the third Test against Sri Lanka in Sydney with a calf strain picked up while bowling on Boxing Day, meaning he will have played in only three of 12 home Tests in the past two summers.
After Australia's crushing victory in three days in Melbourne, he said he may have to seriously consider quitting bowling.
While that may solve his fitness problems, it would increase pressure on Watson to perform with the bat. The Australian team hierarchy expect to discuss the issue with the 31-year-old at the conclusion of the Sri Lanka series, but have left little doubt his value to the team could depreciate if he is not an all-rounder.
The selectors have previously baulked at choosing Watson solely as a batsman when he has been unfit to bowl, and he will need to prove himself as one of the country's top six batsmen to maintain his place. He made 83 in Melbourne, but will want to add to his two hundreds in 38 Tests if he gives up bowling.
''At the end of the Test series, Shane will have the opportunity to sit down with a few of us and have that discussion,'' Pat Howard, the general manager of team performance, said. ''The selectors have been very keen on having people who are multi-skilled across the board. You've seen many of our players bowl this summer, even the wicketkeeper. We're after people who can perform their skills to the best of their ability.
''If Shane Watson is to open that dialogue, he's free to do that, and to be judged on those performances. That's not just about Shane Watson - the selectors love people being able to bat, bowl, field, bring some leadership to the table, and having more than one skill. If Shane or anybody wants to be a batsman only, somebody else has got to be able to take up the overs.''
Selectors are keen to avoid a repeat of the second Test against South Africa, when they were left short of bowlers following the breakdown of fast bowler James Pattinson and the absence of an all-rounder. ''That's something selectors think about when they put up a squad of 13 but also when they put up 11,'' Howard said.
Watson entered the Boxing Day Test with a niggle in his calf and bowled only three overs on day one at the MCG. Howard said selectors had thought about resting him after his heavy load of 47 overs in Hobart but decided against it. ''He's multi-skilled and can bring more than a couple of attributes to the game,'' he said.