Who comes in for Watson if he misses Brisbane?
Date: November 5, 2013 / Posted by Glenn Mitchell
Shane Watson’s latest injury woe may see James Faulkner hold his place in the Test side, hand a lifeline to Usman Khawaja or perhaps present Alex Doolan with a freshly woven baggy green.
Watson injured a hamstring while bowling in Australia’s final one-dayer against India at Bangalore, placing him in doubt for the first Ashes Test at the Gabba in 17 days’ time.
There is no doubt that the selectors will not take undue risks with the all-rounder who has often been sidelined with hamstring strains in the past, including significant absences over the past two Australian summers.
The extent of the injury will be known later this week once he arrives back in Australia and undergoes scans.
Prior to him limping from the ground on Saturday, the XI for the opening Ashes encounter seemed to have been preordained.
With Mitchell Johnson having been flown home prior to the ODI series decider, it appeared both he and George Bailey would be starters in Brisbane.
The starting XI would likely have been – prior to the Bangalore ODI – Chris Rogers, David Warner, Watson, Michael Clarke, Bailey, Steve Smith, Brad Haddin, Johnson, Peter Siddle, Ryan Harris and Nathan Lyon.
Watson’s possible omission will pose a problem for the selectors given his all-round role within the team.
Whilst his role at number three is pivotal, his bowling is also important.
If he is an absentee, Australia would be left with three quicks, including the injury-prone Harris.
If John Inverarity and his cohorts want to replace Watson with an all-rounder it will definitely be James Faulkner, who made his debut in Australia’s last Test at the Oval in August.
He equipped himself well enough with returns of 4-51 and 2-47 from a total of 27.4 overs and scores of 23 and 22.
Among his scalps were Alastair Cook, Ian Bell, Jonathon Trott and Matt Prior.
He signed off on his Indian campaign with a belligerent maiden ODI century at Bangalore, blasting 116 off 73 balls which included 11 fours and six sixes.
His 19 ODIs to date have seen him score 408 runs at 45.3 with a strike rate of 92.
While not express, Faulkner has the ability to move the ball both ways and being a left-armer is a plus, while at 23 he has a lot of time for further improvement.
In a 38-game first-class career he has captured 138 wickets at 22.6, a record that compares extremely well alongside any of the country’s current-day quicks.
He has been less productive with the bat with 1379 runs at 30.0 and he has been unable to convert any of his eight half-centuries into a three-figure score.
His inclusion would bolster the bowling but it would require a new number three.
With the skipper unlikely to move up the order the role would fall to Bailey, a formidable task on debut.
While he has been supreme at ODI level – 1539 runs at 55.0 from 35 matches – his lack of red ball form would likely see him preferred at number five or six.
The more likely candidates to step up should Watson be ruled out are Khawaja and Doolan.
Unfortunately for Khawaja he was unable to carry his recent Ryobi Cup form – 426 runs at 71.0 – into the opening round of Sheffield Shield fixtures.
Turning out for the Bulls against South Australia at Adelaide he batted just the once in a drawn game, scoring eight in a team total of 465.
He will get another chance against the red ball when he represents Australia A against England at Hobart on Wednesday.
Khawaja’s Test career has never gained momentum with his nine Tests spread out over three clusters of three Tests.
Overlooked for the opening match of the last Ashes series, he played the next three – scoring 114 runs at 19.0 – before feeling the axe again ahead of The Oval.
In his favour is the fact that he has batted at number three in all bar three of his 17 Test innings.
Going against him is the fact that he is a left-hander.
The other man who will be on the selectors’ mind is Doolan.
He starred in his first Shield match of the season, guiding Tasmania to victory over New South Wales at Sydney with scores of 56 and 132.
His career stats after 48 first-class matches are not stellar – 3141 runs at 39.3 – but in the past 12 months his development has been notable.
He was a pivotal member of the Tigers Shield winning side last season, scoring 715 runs at 42.
He also racked up an unbeaten 161 for Australia A against a South African attack that included Dale Steyn and Vernon Philander.
His last 12 first-class matches have consequently produced 1064 runs at 56.0.
Doolan will also get a chance to experience the current England touring squad at Hobart this week.
It will be a matter of the selectors having to decide whether they have the sufficient firepower with just three specialist quicks to tame England’s batsmen in the opening Test.
For mine, I would give the spot possibly left vacant by Watson to either Khawaja or Doolan, depending who fares the better at Hobart.
First published on The Roar – theroar.com.au – on 4 November 2013