SHANE Watson should be Australia's most influential cricketer. He is certainly one of its busiest, and most highly paid.
All of which is why Cricket Australia's team performance unit, created and empowered by the Argus report, hatched the most sophisticated and specialised plan yet to have him at peak fitness for the Test series against South Africa, and again for next year's Ashes.
That plan unravelled disastrously on Saturday when Watson trudged from Allan Border Field with a suspected calf injury six days before the first Test against the Proteas.
If Cricket Australia is to blame, then the finger should be pointed at head office, not the coaching hierarchy that wanted him to skip the Champion's League Twenty20 tournament. Instead, team performance manager Pat Howard won a compromise - despite opposition from the Sydney Sixers - and called him home after the early games. The Champions League, a senior Cricket Australia official confided recently, is ''a pain in the arse'', but the ache is diminished somewhat for CA management because of the millions of dollars it makes for Australian cricket.
The pain in Watson's calf may not have been avoided if he had come straight home from the World Twenty20 in Sri Lanka, in which he marauded with bat and ball and was man of the series. He could only have played grade cricket or Futures League (second XI) state matches if he had been at home, because the domestic schedule was compromised, too, to cater for the Sixers' sojourn to the Champions League.
But there is no doubt the lucrative club tournament has played havoc with Australia's Test preparations, leaving Pat Cummins with a stress injury in his back that went undiagnosed for a week and fellow Test squad quicks Ben Hilfenhaus and Mitchell Starc with just one Sheffield Shield game to find their groove with a red ball. Nor have the batsmen had the ideal preparation; opener David Warner played only two games for the Delhi Daredevils when he could have been at home, resting and preparing to face the most formidable pace attack in the world. Watson, who missed all of last summer's Tests with hamstring and calf injuries, this week spoke of a desire ''deep inside'' to move beyond the decent starts that have characterised his Test career and convert them to Test hundreds.
''Over the next couple of weeks the conditioning part of things is going to be very important. Unless you're out there playing you can't replicate anything like what it's going to be physically being out there on your feet in a battle for five days. That's certainly going to take a bit of time to get my body adjusted to it,'' he said. ''Mentally, that's one of the reasons why I came home [from CL Twenty20]. To be able to reset my batting especially to get rid of a few of the little things that creep in when you're playing the shorter form of the game.''
Until Watson can work out a way to make that adjustment, and Cricket Australia can work out a way to keep him fit, his career will be unfulfilled.