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Shane’s flickering Boxing Day hopes

Michael Clarke during a training session in Melbourne, on Tuesday. (Getty Images)

Calcutta: Chances of Shane Watson making the Australia XI of the first Test, against India, beginning on Boxing Day, nosedived on Tuesday as he failed to take part on the opening day of the hosts’ preparatory batting camp.

Watson was present with the team at the MCG nets but he did not bat or bowl and was only seen helping assistant coach Justin Langer feed balls into the bowling machine.

He went into the gym but did not take part in any of the drills in the camp, which will last three days.

According to a report in the Sydney Morning Herald, Watson’s recovery from hamstring and calf injuries has been slow. “He has indicated he will be unable to bowl by Boxing Day but it’s believed his hopes of being fit to play as a specialist batsman have also faded as he makes a slow recovery from hamstring and calf injuries,” the report said.

However, Watson’s loss may turn out to be fellow all-rounder Dan Christian’s gain as could make his debut in the series opener against India. Christian also missed the first day of the camp, but that was due to a Twenty20 match in which he played.

Australia coach Mickey Arthur has also said that he prefers a genuine all-rounder against India’s formidable batting line-up.

Arthur said Christian’s performances for South Australia this season, 475 runs in the Sheffield Shield at 59.37, suggested he could hold a place in the top six.

“It’s almost as if you play with 12 players when you play with an all-rounder, so our preference for balance of the team is always to try and have an all-rounder. If we’ve got one that we think is capable of doing the job, we’ll play him.”

“We played on two pretty helpful wickets against New Zealand, to be honest, so we didn’t need a huge amount from that fifth bowler… We got through that easily, but when you’re playing at the MCG and the SCG and there’s back-to-back Test matches, it does become hard when you’ve got four bowlers. I see the spinner [Nathan Lyon] bowling a huge amount more, though, and we need to be able to fiddle some overs from some of our batters. If we think an all-rounder is in our best six batters then they will get a game,” the daily quoted Arthur as saying.

“He [Christian] has got an unbelievable record this year, he’s done superbly well for South Australia, so stats will tell you that he could possibly be in our top six batters. I guess the fitness of our other players will also determine that down the line,” Arthur said.

Arthur is one of five selectors, including captain Michael Clarke, who will name a Boxing Day Test squad Wednesday. On the other hand, Shaun Marsh faced throw-downs from Arthur but has only an outside chance of returning from a debilitating back problem on Boxing Day.

“The batting camp, which runs for three days, was also attended by fast bowlers James Pattinson and Peter Siddle, whose minor niggles are not expected to keep them from facing the Indians on Boxing Day,” the report said.

Another Australian daily quoted Australia batting coach Justin Langer as saying that the focus of the camp was more on the mental side of the game.

“You can do the physical and technical preparation… But for me a lot of preparation for the opposition is a real mental thing. A lot of it has to do with strategy… It’s a mind game really. We know the Indian bowlers really well. We’ve just got to get our minds attuned to getting ready for what is to come,” Langer said.

“The (recent batting) collapses, we certainly don’t ever accept those, we need to get better. I think the wicket in Hobart was really green, and in Cape Town it was a lot different than we’d generally play on. We have to adapt better, there is no doubt about that, but I’d like to think that no one is panicking,” he added.