Faulkner return squeezes Watson out

Allrounder left out for return of James Faulkner; Steve Smith to bat at No.3

James Faulkner's return from a side injury has led to allrounder Shane Watson losing his spot in Australia's XI for their Cricket World Cup clash with Afghanistan in Perth.

Report & Highlights: Australia punish Afghanistan

Watson's axing forced a reshuffle in the batting order, with Steve Smith elevated to No.3 and Faulkner slotting into the No.7 position.

The move up the order didn't seem to faze Smith, who made a polished 95 against the Afghans as Australia won by 275 runs.

"Faulkner's in for Shane Watson, which is a big decision but it’s one we thought we had to make, because in Shane’s last 10 one-day games he’s got 220 runs at an average of 22," explained Chairman of the National Selection Panel Rod Marsh before play.

Watson has in fact scored 277 from his past 10 50-over matches for Australia, which includes the World Cup warm-up matches against India and UAE.

"Unfortunately he's been getting starts but he hasn’t been going on with it, and we had to fit James in and someone had to go," Marsh added.

"I'm not saying it was a choice between any players, but it just happened to be it was Shane’s time to go for this particular match."

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Watson during the match against England at the MCG // Getty

Watson was dismissed for a first-ball duck in Australia's opening match of the World Cup against England and scored 23 against New Zealand on Saturday.

The right-hander registered scores of 16, 41, 22 and 34 in the ODIs that preceded the tournament having missed three matches of the Carlton Mid ODI Tri-Series with a hamstring injury.

Watson has a formidable record in ODI cricket; he averages 40.15 from 182 matches with nine centuries and 31 fifties, but hasn't passed three figures since he scored 102 against India in October 2013.

He also hasn't taken a wicket in the past six ODIs in which he's bowled and hasn't taken more than two wickets in an innings in 18 months.

Marsh said Watson could yet play an important role later in the tournament.

"It doesn’t mean anything going forward, except that he’s not in the XI at the moment,” he added.

"If things change then there’s no reason why he won’t be back in the XI.

"He’s a fine, fine player ... it was a tough decision – no-one likes to leave out anyone. Hopefully he’ll find himself back in the team at some stage.

"He might have to rely on someone else’s lack of form or an injury to get back in (the side), but it’s a good situation to be in really when you’ve got both Watson and George Bailey out of the side – two extremely well-credentialed one-day players."

World Cup winner Shane Warne said Watson's run of mid-range scores had caught up with him, but said the allrounder's tournament was far from over.

With Australia naming a middle order of Glenn Maxwell, Mitchell Marsh, James Faulkner and Brad Haddin for the Afghanistan match, Warne said Watson's proven ability as a top-order batsman could be important later in the tournament.

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Watson scored 23 against New Zealand on Saturday // Getty

"I suppose they've just said 'you know what, we're sort of sick and tired of Shane Watson not making runs'", Warne told Wide World of Sports.

"I still think he could play a part in this World Cup, because I look down that side at the moment and you've sort of got three or four sumber sevens batting at 5, 6, 7 and 8.  

"There's a lot relying on that top order so Shane Watson could still have a lot to say in this tournament yet.

"He's missed out today, they've given him a bit of a clip just to say 'we've worn thin about your (lack of) runs. You've needed to make some runs and you haven't been able to do that.'"

Former World Cup captain Mark Taylor agreed that Watson, when in form, deserves selection in Australia's best XI.

But he warned that a good performance from Australia against the Associate nation today would make it difficult for Watson to regain his spot in the side.

"I think Shane Watson, at is very best, does bat at No.3 for Australia," Taylor said.

"If Australia play well, it's going to be hard for Watson to get back in, especially if Smith or Clarke make runs.

"This could be Australia's side for the rest of the World Cup, if they play well."