Australia to gamble again on Watson

Shane Watson will be under heavy scrutiny during the Ashes.

By Ian Ransom

MELBOURNE (Reuters) - Resource-rich Australia has rarely shied away from a calculated gamble in a promising asset, but the continued investment in the all-round talents of Shane Watson will come under heavy scrutiny in the upcoming Ashes series.

Australia's selectors have forever plunged on the barrel-chested Queenslander, convinced a long-awaited dividend will finally be paid out.

Their loyalty has been largely unrewarded, with Watson's 46 tests producing a paltry yield of three centuries and a litany of team-disrupting injuries.

Yet the enigmatic 32-year-old remains a prized commodity, a handy pace bowler capable of both tying up an end with stingy line and length, and clinching a timely wicket to break up a stubborn partnership.

A fit and firing Watson batting and bowling in the same test match is a comforting sight for Australia's cricket fans.

It has also become an increasingly a rare one.

Problematic calves and hamstrings have sidelined the burly blonde from test matches in Australia's last two home summers and he missed the entire Ashes series in 2006-07.

His physical frailty has overshadowed the team's preparations again in the leadup to the first Ashes test in Brisbane on November 21, after he suffered a hamstring strain in a one-day international in India.

While Watson scrambles to be fit for the Gabba, anxiety over his role in the team, where he should bat, whether he should bowl at all, continues to haunt Australia.

"It is increasingly obvious that Watson can no longer mix bowling and top-order batting," former Australia test batsman Tom Moody wrote in a column last week.

"We have to stop talking about whether Watson is fit and decide what the best fit is for the Australian team."

Watson's ability to gel in the dressing room has also been under scrutiny.

Persistent reports of friction last season with his captain Michael Clarke pre-empted a full-blown crisis on the tour of India this year.

Watson, along with three other players, was sensationally stood down for the third test in India after failing to provide then-coach Mickey Arthur with suggestions on how to improve the team's performance.

The scandal, dubbed 'homework-gate', saw Watson fly home -ostensibly to be with his pregnant wife - and threaten to quit playing for Australia.

Cricket Australia's high performance chief Pat Howard condemned Watson as "sometimes" a team player, but the cricketer was nonetheless hastily reinstated for the fourth and final test after re-committing himself to the team.

Watson was back in the spotlight in the leadup to the Ashes after Arthur's controversial sacking when the disaffected South African sued Cricket Australia for unfair dismissal.

Leaked documents of Arthur's submissions to an employment tribunal alleged Clarke had described Watson as a "cancer" in the team.

Watson's Ashes campaign in England was emblematic of his career, with promising starts at the crease cut short and tinged with controversy over his appalling use of the decision review system.

He struck a glorious century when the series was already done and dusted.

All but lost in the euphoria of his first ton in three years was the fact that it was compiled against a second-string attack in the fifth and final test.

Yet it was enough for wishful Australian pundits to declare the batsman had a "lock" on the team's problematic number three spot in the order.

Selectors will roll the dice again in the coming series.

"For 15 years or so, Watson has been Australian cricket's pet project," cricket journalist Gideon Haigh wrote during the last Ashes tour.

"All the king's horses and all the king's men only tried to put Humpty Dumpty together once; with Watson it has been every other week, in search of the ideal game plan implementing, skill-set executing cyborg."

(Editing by Greg Stutchbury)

Matches

MORE TOP STORIES TODAY

On Now: Kolkata vs Bangalore

On Now: Kolkata vs Bangalore

IPL 7, GAME 11—Aaron's spell restricts Kolkata to 150-7. More »

Kolkata bowling vs Bangalore batting might

Kolkata bowling vs Bangalore batting might

The likely return of Gayle will boost Bangalore, but the result could be determined by Kolkata's bowlers. More »

Boycotting IPL will not save cricket

Boycotting IPL will not save cricket

Boycotting the IPL as a means of protest against the grime in the game may not yield the desired results. More »

Gambhir a knock away from striking form - KKR coach

Gambhir a knock away from striking form - KKR coach

Gautam made an eight-ball duck in the opening game against Mumbai and in the second game against Delhi, he lasted only half those balls. More »

Rivals say Srini group delaying BCCI special general meeting

Rivals say Srini group delaying BCCI special general meeting

The group opposed to Srinivasan alleged that since BCCI secretary Sanjay Patel belongs to the president’s group, he was intentionally delaying the SGM… More »

April 24: A legend is born

As Sachin Tendulkar turns 41 - here's a look at some offbeat moments from the Master Blaster's innings. More »

Jadeja spins out Rajasthan in close chase

Jadeja spins out Rajasthan in close chase

IPL 7, GAME 10—Chennai beat Rajasthan by 7 runs after last-over scare. More »

Cleaning up the game starts with fans

Cleaning up the game starts with fans

... because, as recent events reveal, the BCCI has little intention of doing it. More »

SL in 'difficult place' after Farbrace exit

SL in 'difficult place' after Farbrace exit

Sri Lanka depart for assignments in Ireland and England in two weeks, and Sanath Jayasuriya suggested Marvan Atapattu would be interim head coach for those… More »

Vithanage, Priyanjan get T20 call-ups

Vithanage, Priyanjan get T20 call-ups

Herath has been rested, while the team will be without the veteran pair of Mahela Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakkara, who retired from T20 internationals… More »

Chandimal axed as T20 captain

Chandimal axed as T20 captain

Sri Lanka's cricket selectors on Wednesday sacked Dinesh Chandimal as Twenty20 captain and replaced him with Lasith Malinga, while Angelo Mathews was… More »

'BCCI should have picked panel with care'

'BCCI should have picked panel with care'

Dalmiya said that it was the first time that the BCCI had been faced with a situation where the apex court had hauled up the Board and it should have acted… More »

Farbrace is England's assistant coach

Farbrace is England's assistant coach

The ECB continued the restructuring of the England coaching set-up on Wednesday by announcing the appointment of Paul Farbrace as assistant coach. More »

SC asks Mudgal committee to continue

SC asks Mudgal committee to continue

Mukul Mudgal has communicated to the court his willingness to take up the investigation and has been asked to specify the terms and modalities on April… More »

Sri Lanka players resolve pay dispute

Sri Lanka players resolve pay dispute

The pay dispute between Sri Lanka Cricket and its 13 contracted players ended on Wednesday when the latter agreed to accept 10 percent of the participation… More »

Hope to be fit for next game - Pietersen

Hope to be fit for next game - Pietersen

With two heavy defeats at the hands of Bangalore and Chennai, Daredevils currently languish near the bottom of the table. More »

'SC decision could hurt BCCI's status'

'SC decision could hurt BCCI's status'

The Supreme Court prefers that the Justice Mudgal panel further investigate the IPL corruption scandal. More »

Mudgal panel drops bombshell in court

Mudgal panel drops bombshell in court

The Mukul Mudgal probe committee dropped a bombshell in the Supreme Court on Tuesday by making a sensational claim that it was forced to stop audio recording… More »

Perfect Punjab trounce Hyderabad

Perfect Punjab trounce Hyderabad

IPL7, GAME 9—Maxwell (95, 43b), Balaji (4-13) set up 72-run win. More »

Have the ECB played an unfair game?

Have the ECB played an unfair game?

Money talks, but it is in light of this ICC shakeup that the ECB's act of soliciting of another team's coach deteriorates from free-market aggression to… More »

Farbrace quits for England post

Farbrace quits for England post

He will assist Peter Moores who was unveiled as the new England coach on Saturday. More »

Moin appointed to manage Pakistan team

Moin appointed to manage Pakistan team

Pakistan on Monday reappointed Moin Khan as chief selector and manager of the national team, a week after fellow former captain Rashid Latif turned down… More »

Chennai smash Delhi for first win

Chennai smash Delhi for first win

IPL7, MATCH 8—Raina-led middle order, superlative catching give CSK a 93-run win. More »

'BCCI reputation lowest in 80 years'

'BCCI reputation lowest in 80 years'

The former BCCI president says he was "disillusioned" by the happenings at the emergent working committee meeting on Sunday. More »