LONDON: 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 Wednesday that the 34-year-old Watson would be dropped at Lord's and replaced by fellow all-rounder Mitchell Marsh, 11 years his junior.
Watson's lbw double in Cardiff means he has now passed fifty in just two of his past 16 innings.
"My gut feeling is they'll probably go with Mitchell Marsh," former Australia captain Steve Waugh told Sky Sports before the Fairfax report, subsequently cited by Cricket Australia's own website, was published.
"A guy at that age... when he's played a long time, when you make a decision like this now -- it's pretty much final. There's probably no way back from being dropped now."
Marsh, the son of former Australia opener Geoff Marsh, has played in four Tests and impressed in the team's opening two tour matches by scoring hundreds against both Kent and Essex.
Cricket Australia told AFP 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 on Thursday.
This is not the first time Haddin has put his family ahead of his cricket career. In 2012, Haddin took several months out of the game after his then 17-month-old daughter Mia was diagnosed with neuroblastoma -- a rare form of cancer.
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 in the tour selection chief Rodney Marsh Nevill can consult one of Australia's greatest wicket-keepers.
Australia appear to be increasingly 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.
Starc took a full part in training on Tuesday and, with Australia fast bowler Ryan Harris announcing his injury-induced retirement on the eve of the Cardiff clash, the experienced Peter Siddle appears to next in line to come in.
Siddle, however, was upbeat about Starc's fitness, saying Tuesday: "Starcy got through well today, bowled out in the middle off the long run, both ends, he's feeling good."
Australia coach Darren Lehmann said he hoped the pitch at Lord's was quicker than Cardiff, but Siddle said adjusting to local conditions was a skill of the game.
"That's part of the challenge of world cricket. Teams come to Australia and they get fast, bouncy ones (pitches). You've got to adapt to other conditions if you want to be one of the best teams."
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 an unchanged England side looking to regain the Ashes after their 5-0 thrashing in Australia in 2013/14.
James Anderson, England's all-time leading Test wicket-taker, said there was no danger of complacency setting in because the team were steeling themselves for a backlash, particularly at the 'home of cricket' where Australia opener Chris Rogers has become a familiar figure during his time with Middlesex.
"Every opposition we play at Lord's generally picks up their game 10 percent for some reason," said Anderson. "When teams are 1-0 down they generally come back strong in the series, so we've got to be prepared for that."
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