Shane WatsonÂ has featured in two losing Ashes series and a failed World Cup defence, but he believes his toughest challenge in Australia’s team is coming up. As the new vice-captain and most important player, Watson must help find a way to boost a team whose entire structure is under review, and lift Australia out of fifth place on the ICC’s Test rankings.
Given the difficult schedule Australia have coming up, not slipping to sixth is perhaps a more significant immediate goal. Next month, Michael Clarke’s men head to Sri Lanka to face a squad that not only are ranked fourth on the ICC Test list, but haven’t lost a home series in five years, and tough contests against South Africa and India, the top two sides, follow later in the year.
Australia haven’t played a Test series in Sri Lanka since 2004, and Ricky Ponting is the only current player who has worn the baggy green there. And as the Australians discovered during the World Cup, when they were beaten by Pakistan in Colombo and were saved by a wash-out in which Sri Lanka were on top, it won’t be easy to adjust to the conditions.
“The next six to eight months is going to be the biggest challenge that I’ve ever faced in the Australian team,” Watson toldÂ Fox Sports. “Going to Sri Lanka and playing in their conditions is as tough a tour as there is, especially for an Australian team. Sri Lanka is very foreign, the conditions are, to what we’re used to in Australia. Only having Ricky with the experience is going to provide a huge challenge.
“On the back of that, we go to South Africa and play Tests and one-dayers in South Africa. That in itself is a really challenging tour as well, and one of the toughest ones you can go on. It will be a really interesting time for us as a team, over the next six months to see exactly where we’re at, and see the continued improvement, because that’s really what we have to show.”
And there is plenty of improvement required, after Australia’s Ashes debacle. A home series against New Zealand at the start of the Australian summer might provide Watson and his colleagues with a little respite, but the pressure will be back on during a four-Test visit by India in December and January.
Tackling those series without the experience of Simon Katich at the top of the order will be tough, but at least his likely replacement, Phillip Hughes, is finding some form. Hughes has made two centuries in three matches on Australia A’s ongoing tour of Zimbabwe, and in his past three first-class games he has made 54, 115, 138, 93, 125 and 32.