Melbourne: Australia's batting woes deepened on Tuesday ahead of the Test series against India with opener Shaun Marsh being ruled out of the first match starting here from December 26 as he is yet to fully recover from his lower back injury.
Marsh has been virtually ruled out of the first Test and Shane Watson has been brought to Melbourne early to assess his fitness.
Hopes that Marsh, who is averaging 56.80 after just three Tests, would return at the MCG from the lower back injury he sustained last month in Cape Town all but evaporated when he was ruled out of the second Chairman's XI match against India to be played at Canberra's Manuka Oval from December 19-21.
Cricket Australia's general manager team performance Pat Howard conceded the left-hander basically had run out of time. "While we are hopeful, Shaun's chances of recovering sufficiently in order to be considered for the first Vodafone Test against India are considered unlikely at this stage," Howard said in a CA statement.
Watson, who was recovering from his hamstring problem and a minor calf muscle strain, is unlikely to be able to bowl even if he is passed fit to return in the first Test. He has also not played any competitive game in more than a month.
Ricky Ponting and Michael Hussey are though expected to retain their places despite their poor recent form.
The 30-year-old Watson hurt his hamstring in Australia's Test victory in Johannesburg last month and a mild calf strain last week further delayed his comeback. "At the moment things are progressing well. Hopefully if everything continues to go well I'll definitely be fully fit to play on Boxing Day," Watson was quoted as saying by 'Sydney Morning Herald'.
Watson is expected to resume bowling in the nets next week but needs a fortnight of work under his belt before he has the conditioning required at Test level. That means Michael Clarke will have to wait until the second Test in Sydney from January 2 before he will have the all-rounder's invaluable seamers back at his disposal.
"If my body continues to progress the way I hope it does, that's more of a realistic goal without being too crazy," Watson said.
Coach and selector Mickey Arthur said the time had come for a decision to be made about Watson's long-term position in the batting order.
There is a view Watson would be better suited lower down the order to reduce the effect the physical and mental demands of bowling have on his batting. "I think we've got to come to a point now where we make a decision on where Shane is going to bat in the batting order and how many overs we expect of Shane so there can be no more debate around the issue," Arthur said.
"We probably need to give him role definition before the Boxing Day Test match," he said.