SHANE WATSON could be chosen as a specialist batsman against South Africa after all, with national selector John Inverarity indicating the all-rounder would almost certainly not be in a position to bowl in the second Test in Adelaide but could still play.
''Yes, he could,'' was Inverarity's reply when asked on Friday whether Watson, named in a 13-man Australia squad, would be considered for Adelaide as a batsman pure and simple. It contradicted a statement made two days earlier by Inverarity's superior in the Cricket Australia power structure, the general manager of team performance, Pat Howard, and led to suggestions of a breakdown in communication within the team hierarchy at a point where the series was locked after a draw at the Gabba.
The reality is a little more complicated. Echoing the thoughts of the former Australian captain Mark Taylor, published on Thursday, Inverarity said the issue with Watson was not necessarily his capability to bowl but whether his recovering calf muscle would be up to the stresses of the lengthy innings required of a Test No.3. The likely conclusion is that if Watson is unable to bowl, he will also be deemed unfit to bat, meaning back-up Rob Quiney will retain his spot against the Proteas.
''He'll need to be fit to perform regarding running, running between wickets, turning, fielding, chasing, diving,'' Inverarity said of Watson. ''He'll need to be fit to perform in that regard before he comes into consideration.
''There is only a small margin in which he is fit to perform as a batsman but not able to bowl.
''We'll just have to wait and see; we're hoping that he'll be beyond that and be able to bowl, but if he's not able to, there is a fair chance he won't be able to be fit to perform in terms of running between the wickets, chasing in the field, diving in the field.''
The vice-captain's prospects are not strong as he prepares to roll his arm over on Monday for the first time since he strained his calf a fortnight ago in a Brisbane net. He might not be ruled out until as late as next Wednesday, though.
''It's unlikely he'll be able to get his bowling workloads up in time to be able to bowl in the Test, so that's something that the national selection panel will have to consider very carefully,'' Inverarity said.
''He might surprise us by being able to bowl on Monday, then on Wednesday, and he might be able to bowl a few overs in the Test if selected. We just don't know, it's too early.''
The Watson soap opera has gathered pace during the nine-day break between Tests, and the reaction to Howard's remarks created tension. The high performance boss's comments on Wednesday, when he said Watson had to be able to bowl to be picked in this series, were interpreted as evidence the 31-year-old was no longer regarded as one of Australia's top six batsmen. This is not the view of senior members of Australian management, who rate Watson - despite a lean record since the last Ashes - as a non-negotiable in the top order, as long as he is fit.
The other twist Inverarity offered on Friday came when he was asked who would make way in the event of a Watson return in Adelaide, or the following week in Perth. Quiney is the obvious choice but the selection chief was far from unequivocal, particularly when asked whether opener David Warner, out for four at the Gabba, was also under pressure.
''We'll make the decision closer to the time,'' said Inverarity, speaking in Perth.
''I mean, we're here at the WACA. Less than 12 months ago, David played a wonderful innings here. We'll just have to wait and see.''
It was a less enthusiastic endorsement than the one Inverarity gave to fellow opener Ed Cowan before the Brisbane Test when the Tasmania batsman's place was supposedly in doubt, and will be seen by some as the next stop in the merry-go-round of scrutiny of players, which seems to be updated innings by innings.
Warner could use a big score in Adelaide but surely is not on the brink of being boned.