AUSTRALIA will have to shoehorn an all-rounder into its Test team for the tour of India, and possibly the Ashes, after Shane Watson confirmed he would take an indefinite break from bowling.
A meeting between Watson and Cricket Australia selectors John Inverarity, Andy Bichel, Mickey Arthur and Michael Clarke last Tuesday culminated in an understanding the injury-plagued 31-year-old would shelve his fast-medium bowling - a move he had long and vigorously resisted - in a bid to shore up his Test batting, which has been below par for the past two years.
''I don't think Watto would mind me saying this, right at the moment Watto wants to come back as a batsman,'' said Arthur, the national team's coach.
''He wants to come back into the team with a primary focus of batting. He feels every time he bats and then he gets injured [when] bowling, he just loses a bit of momentum with his batting, which is probably fair to say.
''Once he feels his body is going well and that he feels he's cemented his batting position, we will then take another look at how we want to go with Shane in terms of bowling … that's a decision that only Watto can make.''
Watson has missed nine of Australia's past 12 home Tests mainly because of recurring calf injuries affecting his right leg last summer and his left leg this summer.
Over the past two years his batting, so reliable since his recall during the 2009 Ashes, has regressed, averaging only 26.4 from 11 Tests in that period. In the preceding two years, starting with the Ashes, he averaged 49.88.
The Test vice-captain injured his calf bowling on the first day of the Boxing Day Test after bowling a personal record 47.4 overs the week before in Hobart. He was also bowling when that injury occurred during a Sheffield Shield match just before the first Test against South Africa, which ruled him out until the last match of that series.
While Watson's bowling has led to a crisis of confidence in his body, the problem for the Australian team is that it has been so valuable. Since his Ashes return, Watson has taken 48 wickets at an average of 28.46 - excellent for a non-specialist bowler - including three five-wicket hauls.
Arthur signalled he wanted Watson to eventually resume bowling.
''We'll be working very closely with him on that because obviously Shane bowling a couple of overs is really good for us,'' he said.
Chief selector John Inverarity conceded Watson's role in the Test team was likely to change but hoped it would not be as extensive as him not bowling at all.
''I think it's unlikely we'll see him as a fully fledged all-rounder … but it could be quite handy if he's a batsman who just bowls a bit, because you certainly need more bowling in your side than just your four [specialist] bowlers provide,'' Inverarity said on Monday.
''We all know how well Shane can bat. I just hope he can get it all together. If and when he comes back we hope that he can really perform up to his potential.''
Watson's dramatic change of focus could have repercussions for the Test batting line-up as his recent move from No. 3 to No. 4 was made to allow him to bowl more overs. Arthur confirmed the selectors would consider returning Watson to the top of the order, where he averages 43.67 across 45 innings.
Such a move would endanger the position of Ed Cowan, who scored a century in the first Test of the summer but averaged 25.33 in the next five.
''He'll still be opening in one-day cricket. And who knows, maybe he does [return to opening in Tests], maybe he doesn't,'' Arthur said.
Glenn Maxwell is well placed to assume the all-rounder's berth in India, given he bowls off-spin and the pitch conditions should suit him, but for the Ashes in England, selectors are sure to want someone capable of bolstering the pace attack.
Inverarity said earlier this summer that selectors were ''unashamedly very keen to develop all-rounders''.
''I think if you've got a couple of all-rounders in your side, it's extremely useful, and it creates less wear and tear on your out-and-out pace bowlers,'' he said.
Victoria's Andrew McDonald was the favoured alternative all-rounder at the start of the summer but underwent hamstring surgery and is months away from bowling again, and West Australian Mitch Marsh has also been hampered by surgery for a serious hamstring injury.
Besides those two, New South Wales' Moises Henriques and Tasmania's James Faulkner shape as the most credible options as seam-bowling all-rounders.