CENTURION, SOUTH AFRICA - FEBRUARY 10: Shane Watson speaks to Darren Lehmann look on during an Australian nets session at Centurion Park on February 10, 2014 in Centurion, South Africa. (Photo by Morne de Klerk/Getty Images)

While South Africa ponder which of three all-rounders to pick for the first Test against Australia, the tourists have been left with a major quandary following the withdrawal of Shane Watson through injury.

Watson’s calf flared up during the early training stints in Potchefstroom and worsened during Australia’s inter-squad practice match at the Wanderers last week. With the short turnaround time between the Tests, there are doubts too about Watson’s availability for the Port Elizabeth match.

“That throws a few spanners in the works as far as our side is concerned, he’s been an important part of our side of late,” said Chris Rogers.

This week, though, they need to look at replacing him for the opening match of the series, with Moises Henriques and Phil Hughes the two main candidates. Henriques would be a like-for-like replacement – a solid performer with both bat and ball who last played for Australia on the disastrous tour to India last year. He was one of the few players able to hold their heads high after that series, making two half-centuries and also picking up two wickets on surfaces where medium-pacers are usually targeted.

Hughes is an interesting option, in that he’ll lengthen the Australian batting – a ploy successfully utilised by South Africa in the last 18 months, though they did have a certain Jacques Kallis in their ranks.

Hughes has tasted success on these shores and was one of the outstanding performers when a young team beat South Africa in 2009, making two centuries in the second Test in Durban. Hughes hasn’t played since the Lord’s Test last year, and would be a risky choice, given what it does to the balance of the Australian side.

“Personally, I think they’ll go for the all-rounder, you don’t want to leave yourself short in South Africa, only having three seam bowling options – if one breaks down, you’re stuck with two,” Robin Peterson said.

Though still in the early stages of its preparation, the pitch at SuperSport Park looked very green and, as Faf du Plessis, described it, “juicy”. It’s understood that’s what the home side requested, with an eye on exposing Australia’s flaky batting.

Though some individuals produced some good numbers in recent series against England, many of those were inflated as they came in the second innings when Australia were already ahead in the game. In four of the five Tests, England had Australia five wickets down for less than 150 in the first innings, and pressed home their advantage just once in Melbourne.

South Africa certainly won’t let them off the hook as easily. The make-up of the South African attack remains something of a mystery. Russell Domingo and Graeme Smith are playing their cards close to their chests, and although Domingo said last week he’s sure about the starting side for Wednesday, they will still want to keep their options open.

Of the three players likely to fill the lower order all-rounder spot, Wayne Parnell impressed the most at practice yesterday, bowling with pace and getting the ball to swing late. Parnell was described as an ‘X-factor’ player by Domingo earlier this season, and that kind of dynamism can be helpful against Australia.

Ryan McLaren and Rory Kleinveldt are less dyna-mic than the Eastern Cape “southpaw” but probably more reliable. Between Kleinveldt and McLaren, the former offers more with the ball, the latter more with the bat. McLaren has received very public backing from Jacques Kallis and Mark Boucher, who both believe he should start at SuperSport Park. - The Star