Watson axed as Aussies seek to level Ashes

LONDON, July 15

Australia, reeling from the late withdrawal of wicket-keeper Brad Haddin, are reportedly set to drop Shane Watson for the second Ashes Test at Lord’s on Thursday as they bid to level the five-match series at 1-1.

Watson was twice out lbw cheaply in all-too familiar fashion as England, against many pre-series predictions, won the first Test in Cardiff by the crushing margin of 169 runs with more than a day to spare last week. With his medium-paced bowling barely used by captain Michael Clarke at Sophia Gardens, Australia’s Fairfax Media reported that the 34-year-old Watson would be dropped at Lord’s and replaced by fellow all-rounder Mitchell Marsh. Watson’s lbw double in Cardiff means he has now passed fifty in just two of his past 16 innings.

Cricket Australia told AFP on Wednesday they would not comment on the Fairfax report, saying that the Test side would be announced as scheduled on Thursday morning at Lord’s. Haddin, 37, withdrew on Tuesday for what a team spokeswoman said were “family reasons”, although he will remain with the squad in London. Peter Nevill, also Haddin’s New South Wales deputy, is now set for an international debut.

Meanwhile the 29-year-old Nevill faces the prospect of making his Test debut at Lord’s, which can prove tough for wicket-keepers because of how the ball can deviate alarmingly after passing the bat. But Australia appear to be confident that left-arm fast bowler Mitchell Starc, the pick of their attack in Cardiff, will be fit for Lord’s despite suffering an ankle injury in Wales.

For England, whose first match under new Australian coach Trevor Bayliss resulted in a commanding victory, the challenge is to put two wins together — something that has so far eluded them this year in Test series against the West Indies and New Zealand. Alastair Cook is set to captain and looking to regain the Ashes after their 5-0 thrashing in Australia in 2013/14.