Aussies need Watson in Adelaide
I I discussed in my previous column areas where the Proteas will be looking to improve ahead of the second test in Adelaide. In my view the Aussies have more concerns.
The major problem for Australia at this point is the fitness of all-rounder Shane Watson. Australia lacks an all-rounder when Watson doesn't play. During the first test they had to rely on the part-time bowling of Rob Quiney and Mike Hussey to get by. These two are seam bowlers of modest ability. This is far from ideal for Australia.
Test cricket is all about creating and maintaining pressure. The Aussies already have a very questionable spin department where Nathan Lyon has failed to impress. Lyon doesn't slow the scoring rate down and therefore struggles to create pressure. In combination with the part-time seam of Hussey and Quiney, who both struggle in this respect as well, the options of Michael Clarke becomes very limited when the South African batsmen establish a substantial partnership.
This puts a lot of pressure on the three frontline Aussie seamers. With the exception of the promising and talented James Pattinson, the Aussie pacemen struggled during the first test. Peter Siddle and Ben Hilfenhaus were distinctly ordinary. The only real threat came from Pattinson, who bowled with pace and aggression. The talk is that the Australian selectors will bring in left-arm fast bowler Mitchell Starc.
This is sound thinking. Starc will at least provide some variation to a predictable attack. Being a left-arm bowler he will also create foot marks that Nathan Lyon can exploit outside the right-handed batsmen's off stump. This will be a positive move by Australia. Starc should come in for Hilfenhaus, who looked pedestrian during the first test. However, Starc failed to impress in the ongoing Sheffield Shield match between Victoria and New South Wales.
Australia's biggest concern will be to bowl South Africa out twice cheaply enough to win one of the remaining test matches. Even though JP Duminy has gone home injured the Proteas will still have the luxury of selecting seven specialist batsmen should they choose to do so. This will make life difficult for the Australian bowlers, particularly in Adelaide where the pitch is normally batting friendly.
The Australian selectors and Michael Clarke no doubt will be desperate to get Watson into the playing eleven. They have taken a hard line on Watson in the sense that they will only select him if he is fully fit. Even though he is probably a better specialist batsman at the top of the order than either David Warner or Quiney, they have stated publicly that Watson will only be considered if he is able to bowl.
The Aussies will be harder to beat if Watson plays in Adelaide. There is little doubt about that. He will give the team a much better balance. He is also competitive by nature and plays the game aggressively, which will help the Australia's cause. If Watson is fit, the teams will be evened up a lot more. If not, I would rather be in the Proteas' shoes going into the match.