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Clarke may skip Delhi Test, leaving it to Watson

Clarke was struggling with his back in the 3rd Test at Mohali.

New Delhi - Speculation is rife in the Australian camp that Michael Clarke may not like to risk his dodgy back in a dead rubber and leave it to his deputy Shane Watson to lead the team in the fourth and the final Test against India, starting here from Friday.

The chances of Watson leading Australia for the first time in a Test increased after Clarke skipped the nets at the Feroz Shah Kotla here on Wednesday.

Clarke was clearly struggling with a recurring back pain during the Mohali Test which India won to take an unassailable 3-0 lead in the series.

Clarke did not train and spent his time chatting with head coach Mickey Arthur and selector Rod Marsh, though he did have a closer look at the wicket.

Watson appeared visibly happy and could barely wipe the smile off his face following the birth of his son Will.

It also appears that Watson has patched up with Cricket Australia’s (CA) high-performance chief Pat Howard, who had called Watson as only “sometimes a team player”. Howard moved around the ground with the phone glued to his ear.

Opening batsman Ed Cowan on Wednesday backed Shane Watson to lead Australia in the fourth and final Test against India starting on Friday if skipper Michael Clarke is unfit and also hoped the team would bounce back after three consecutive defeats.

“Firstly, it is important to know that Michael is expected to play, so at the moment Shane Watson isn’t the captain of the team. If that happened, the team is very happy with that because he is the vice-captain of the tour and there are expectations that the vice-captain steps up if the captain is injured. I guess we know that was always going to be a possibility,” Cowan told reporters at the Feroz Shah Kotla after a practice session.

Shane Watson had returned home after being dropped from the 3rd Test but has arrived after the birth of his son, Will.

An out-of-form Watson has been in the centre of controversy after he was sidelined for the third Test in Mohali along with three others over a breach of discipline last week.

Watson was angry and left for home to be with his wife Lee, who delivered baby boy Will last Thursday. Watson, who left India contemplating retirement, however, returned in time to be with the team for the fourth Test starting here from Friday.

Cowan said Watson is a “great player and a good leader.”

“Shane is quite a good player and a good leader in his own right, so it will be a good opportunity for him if he gets that opportunity. He (Watson) has probably decided to come back with a full focus and we will accept him because he is such a great player and a good leader,” Cowan said.

“He is a senior player around the group and it is important those kinds of players are on board because we need those guys for this team to be the best team in the world.”

Cowan said Watson was different from Clarke, who is struggling with back pain.

“He is a very different leader to Michael but we’re hoping Michael is fine for this Test. He (Clarke) is such a great batsman and we need his runs and his leadership,” he said.

Asked about Clarke’s chances, Cowan said: “He basically said that he has got the best possible medical team working over time on his back, it is a condition that he has got for a long time and he has not missed a Test yet so he is not expecting to miss this. He is pretty confident and I guess because he is so familiar with it and it is something that he deals on a daily basis. He will be all right I guess.”

Cowan said there is “no defeatist attitude in our dressing room” and the boys are ready to bounce back.

“We are confident as we have been in every Test that we can win the Test if we play as well as we possibly can. We haven’t done that yet. We are the first to put up hands up and say we haven’t played as well as we possibly can partly due to the skills of the opposition and partly due to our own shortcoming.”

“We know that if we can put pressure on India for a long period of time we have a good chance of winning the Test match. Few guys have played quite a bit of cricket here, whether it be with the Delhi Daredevils or during the IPL so we have a hang of the conditions and I am sure the wicket will be a good one,” he said.

Cowan said the team has emerged stronger after the ‘homework affair’ and is determined to again become the No.1 Test team.

“There had been a build-up and there always comes a time where there is a breaking point and that happened in Mohali. We feel quite buoyed by the concept of moving forward together,” said Cowan.

“This is how we want to move forward, and if you are in, you are in; if you don’t want to be a part of it, then don’t be a part of it and Shane wants to be a part of it. The assumption is that we are all moving forward together and the team is really happy to have him back because he is a hell of a player,” he added.

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