Australia new coach Darren Lehmann, on Wednesday, confirmed that Shane Watson will return to the opening slot when the Ashes start on July 10 at Nottingham. Lehmann was speaking to the media after Day 1 of the first Ashes tune-up match against Somerset.
Watson faced the only over Australia faced on Wednesday. Earlier in the day, Somerset slipped from 304 for two to 320 all out. Nick Compton (81 off 144), pushing for an Ashes spot, and young Chris Jones (130 off 239) added 170 for the second wicket. Jones then added another 119 with James Hildreth (66 off 93) for the third wicket but Mitchell Starc and James Pattinson stole the show with four-wicket hauls, each.
Lehmann was visibly relieved after the day's play. "Pleased with the end result on a good flat wicket. Bowlers toiled pretty hard. Starc and Pattinson bowled, the way we should have the whole day, after lunch."
With the bowlers doing their job, all focus now shifts back to the batsmen, especially Watson. He has not opened a Test match innings for Australia since the second Test against South Africa in Johannesburg, 2011. Watson's Test average between 2009-11 was nearly 50 while between 2011-13 it has gone down to around 25.
Owing to bad form and injuries, Watson's fortunes may have dwindled since 2011, but he still remains the go-to man as far as Lehmann is concerned.
"Shane, yeah, he'll be opening for us," Lehmann said. "That's where we want him to bat and he's done really well for us there and we're quite keen for him to open and to have a big part in the Ashes and obviously make a lot of runs for us and start the innings up well.
"He's been up and down the order but his most success has been as an opener. We hope he gets a big score here for us tomorrow (Day 2 vs Somerset, Thursday) and see how we go. You need good starts to make big scores against a good side so we need him to give us good starts to put pressure on England.
"We've talked about wanting blokes to perform and if you perform you'll have a chance to play in the first Test. We want to give everyone in our squad the opportunity to perform well in the tour games and that's what we're about."
During the disastrous tour of India, Watson batted at No. 4 and managed just 99 runs in his six innings at 16.50. He did not roll his arm over at all though.
Watson did not bowl on Day 1 of the Somerset fixture too but Lehmann said that the other bowlers needed maximum exposure in preparations for Ashes. "We want to have a look at the other four bowlers, and that's the only reason," Lehmann said. "But he'll (Watson) bowl next game."
The other point to ponder over for Aussie think-tank is the second opener issue. While Ed Cowan is playing as the specialist opener against Somerset, Chris Rogers will also be given a look in, in case Cowan fails to make an impact. David Warner, missing the warm-ups due to suspension, though, will probably not be 'in that line' for the Ashes. He might play as a middle-order bat with Watson moving up the order.