SHANE WATSON is set to miss this week's Sheffield Shield match for NSW as Cricket Australia takes a conservative approach to the comeback of the Test vice-captain.
NSW selectors were finalising their squad on Monday night but were unlikely to include Watson for the clash with Western Australia starting on Thursday.
He was put through his paces under the supervision of national selectors chairman John Inverarity and fellow selector Andy Bichel at the SCG on Sunday, after which it was decided a return next week was more probable.
''He had a good running workout,'' Inverarity said. ''Andy Bichel and I were there when he did his running drills … but he didn't bat. When we left it yesterday it was uncertain, but he'll certainly play before the end of this month.''
The 31-year-old's likely absence from the Shield match means he will have to wait until the Blues' one-dayer against WA on Wednesday week to make his return from the calf injury he suffered during the Boxing Day Test.
Barring another injury relapse, Watson, who has shelved his bowling indefinitely to concentrate on batting, is likely to return to the national set-up for the one-day series against the West Indies starting on February 1 in Perth.
With the Blues not due to play another Shield match until February 6, just days before the Australian Test squad departs for India, Watson may not get another opportunity to play the longer form of the game until the tour matches on the subcontinent.
If Watson proves his fitness for the first Test in India, he is likely to return at No.4 rather than as an opener, which is his preferred position and where he has performed best wearing the baggy green.
''The captain always determines the batting order,'' Inverarity said. ''We've had many discussions with Shane. One of the basic points is he's always willing to play and bat where he's asked to bat.''
Inverarity indicated Ed Cowan, the batsman considered most at risk had Watson been reinstated at the top of the order, would keep his place for the tour of India. That Cowan will not play another four-day game before the squad is announced would not affect his chances for selection, Inverarity said.
Inverarity said he was unwilling to place any expectations on Shaun Marsh beyond the two Twenty20 internationals for which he has been recalled.
Almost a year since Marsh's exit from the Test team, after a disastrous home series against India, the West Australian was rewarded for his dazzling Big Bash League form for Perth, gaining selection for the T20 internationals against Sri Lanka in Sydney on Saturday and in Melbourne on Monday.
Despite Marsh's pitiful return against India - he scored 17 runs in six innings - the 29-year-old's dazzling start to his Test career last year against Sri Lanka and South Africa kept him in contention for an international return, even though he was dropped from WA's Shield team earlier this season.
Marsh's call-up will sideline him for WA's Shield match away to NSW. If he was then called up for the West Indies ODI series he would miss an additional Shield match. Inverarity, asked if he would consider excluding Marsh from ODI discussions to allow him to prioritise the Shield in a late bid to improve his Ashes selection chances, said the selectors would ''take one step at a time''.
''His form in the BBL has been absolutely compelling,'' Inverarity said of the left-hander on Monday. ''He's batted brilliantly and we all know how well he can play when he's in a good space, and he seems to be in a very good space at the moment.''
Three of the BBL's top-six run scorers were selected: Marsh (412 runs at 58.86), Aaron Finch (332 at 66.4), Adam Voges (268 at 44.67). Those who missed out were Luke Pomersbach (397 at 44.11), Brad Hodge (342 at 48.86) and Ben Rohrer (295 at 49.17). All six boasted strike-rates above 125.