‘I don’t know about top three’: Clarke

admin | 杭州桑拿
4 Dec 2018

Humbled by historic proportions against Pakistan, the make-up of Australia’s heavily scrutinised Test batting line-up this summer has been made no clearer, with Michael Clarke casting doubt on a return to the top of the order for Shane Watson.

The Australians arrived home on Wednesday still smarting from a 2-0 thumping that reinforced their frailties in Asian conditions, and having bitten the dust in the desert adjoining the Persian Gulf, the attention will quickly turn to next month’s four-Test series against India.

While there is an expectation that Clarke’s team will be far less vulnerable in friendly conditions, the series defeat has raised pressing questions about the make-up of the Australian XI at the Gabba on December 4, with no more uncertainty than on who will join the prolific David Warner in the top order.

Watson, missing in the UAE after stepping on a ball at training in August, has been forecast to return to the side and the troublesome No.3 spot – where he batted in the Ashes – appeared to be his obvious destination given Mitchell Marsh’s impressive debut campaign in the middle order.

However, Clarke’s response on Wednesday when asked about where his former vice-captain might fit in was telling. “I don’t know about top three,” the Test captain said in Sydney.

Clarke went on to describe Watson as a “huge member” of Australian teams when fit to bat and bowl, but the remark about where he sees – or more pertinently, does not see – his long-time international colleague slotting in was notable, particularly given recent dynamics between the captain and the selection panel.

Clarke has not been on the same page as selectors over at least two decisions in the past three months – the omission of Steve Smith from a one-day match against Zimbabwe on a spin-friendly wicket in Harare in August, and the dropping of Alex Doolan last week for the second Test in Abu Dhabi.

He supported the latter call after endorsing Doolan in the lead-up, but after a shock defeat in Zimbabwe expressed his displeasure at the absence of Smith and was rebuked by Australian coach Darren Lehmann for doing so.

Whether they will be at odds over the positioning of Watson is yet to be seen, but with Lehmann and the selectors picking the team – and Clarke, as captain, determining the batting order – there could be conflicting views about where he should play.

Lehmann is a Watson fan and said in Abu Dhabi he could envision him featuring along with Marsh, who deserves to stay after being one of few to acquit himself with distinction in the Middle East.

Yet if Marsh is to remain at No.6 and Clarke and Smith are to continue immediately above him, the elephant in the room is what to do with Watson.

Ask him and he will advocate for a spot as high in the order as possible – he said in a radio interview last month that his preference was to open – and he has scored the only two centuries by an Australian at No.3 since the retirement of Ricky Ponting.

Clarke is keeping his own No.3 preference under wraps – “Fortunately I’m not a selector, I’m not going there” – but with Doolan discarded with after Dubai, the other contender looks to be the tour’s back-up batsman Phil Hughes.

As for Watson’s prospects in general, Clarke said he would “of course” be in calculations if fit. “I think certainly he’s been a huge member of the Australian team in all three formats over a long period of time,” he said.

“So if Watto’s fit, I’ve said for a long time …  if he’s batting and bowling he’s a destructive cricketer and he helps all three formats have success.

“He’s back playing for Australia in the shorter format, hopefully he gets back into the one-day team and has some success there, and then we’ll worry about the Test matches.”

Meanwhile, NSW are expected to learn on Thursday whether Test spinner Nathan Lyon will be available for the day-night Sheffield Shield match starting against South Australia in Adelaide on Saturday.

Lyon returned from a disappointing series to a far better scenario, meeting his daughter Milla Ellen, who was born on Sunday night, and will be eager to mount a case for his retention in Brisbane.

Two other Australian bowlers in the UAE, Mitchell Starc and Steve O’Keefe, are also set to play for the Blues in Adelaide.

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