Will Aussies gamble on Watson?

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iol spt nov20 Shane Watson Getty Images Much has been made about Shane Watson's fitness and if Australia will play him as a specialist batsman instead of as an all-rounder in the second Test against South Africa. Photo by Morne de Klerk.

Adelaide – It’s hard to over-estimate the importance of Jacques Kallis to the South African team. His cricketing weight is that of two players, so important is he to the team’s balance.

However, if Kallis’ bowling fitness was in doubt, there’d be absolutely no question he would be chosen as a specialist batsman. Some think this may have happened at the Gabba, with Graeme Smith mentioning at the toss that the great all-rounder had a couple of “niggles”.

This was later contradicted by South Africa’s physio Brandon Jackson, but the fact remained that Kallis only bowled eight overs in the one Australian innings, a meagre ration.

Whatever the state of Kallis’ overall fitness, he made a huge contribution to South Africa’s cause, striking a superb century, batting out valuable time in the second innings as well as picking up two important catches to dismiss David Warner and Ricky Ponting.

Whatever leeway Kallis is allowed is clearly not available for Shane Watson.

Of course, not even the most one-eyed Australian supporter would claim a similar Kallis-like status for Watson, but the attention he’s commanded in the media since before the start of this series is a bald acknowledgement that he is an important component of Michael Clarke’s team when fully fit.

Watson’s confession yesterday – because that’s what it felt like – that he couldn’t risk bowling in the second Test starting on Thursday, suggested that the Queenslander will probably sit out the match.

There has been much speculation about whether the Australians are happy to play Watson as a batsman only, or whether he is only acceptable as an all-rounder.

At the weekend, Mike Hussey added to the variety of opinion on the matter when he said: “We want him fit, and we want him playing well. If he’s fit and playing well, then we’re going to be a better team, there’s no question about that.”

Despite Watson’s comments at a press conference yesterday that he had started running, batting and fielding without any evident problem, he admitted that he wouldn’t be able to bowl and hadn’t tried to do so in the nets.

And if he can’t bowl, the feeling went, he can’t be 100 percent fit and therefore it would be too much of a risk to assume that he would be able to bat for long periods which would involve a lot of running between the wickets.

At the weekend, former Aussie paceman Geoff Lawson said in his weekly column: “Remembering that only three Australians made runs in the first Test, Watson at first drop is a nice cushion if he can physically manage a long occupation. He has the shots, but does he have the body?”

Watson acknowledged yesterday that it was up to the selectors whether they wanted to play him as a batsman only or whether it would be better to pick someone who was able to play the all-rounder role.

“If that’s what Michael (Clarke) and the selectors think is the best balance for the team, I’m not going to oppose that. I’d love to be out there, but if that’s the best balance for 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.”

The general view among the Aussie media yesterday is that Watson won’t play and that Rob Quiney, who stood in for him at the Gabba, will earn his second Test cap. Quiney bowled a number of overs of gentle medium-pace at the Gabba, and will probably be given a similar role here.

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