Aussie skipper Clarke backs Watson as team man
Australian captain Michael Clarke, pictured during the fourth day of the third Ashes Test match against England, in Perth, on December 16, 2013
Clarke's ringing endorsement of his former vice-captain follows a row in India in March, when Cricket Australia team performance manager Pat Howard gave the impression that Watson was not a team player.
Watson clashed with then-Test coach Mickey Arthur when he was one of four players who failed to submit written feedback requested by team management in India, as Australia were on the wrong end of a clean sweep in a four-Test series.
At the time Howard let slip in a press conference that he believed Watson "acts in the best interests of the team -- sometimes" -- and there was a perception that the much-maligned all-rounder was a selfish cricketer.
Former teammates of Watson leapt to his defence and before the Ashes tour to England in June, Watson publicly stated that he and Howard had sorted out any misunderstandings.
Pundits saw the comments by Clarke, praising Watson's impact on Australia's 3-0 Ashes win over England, as vindication for the player.
Clarke said the 32-year-old's near run-a-ball century and willingness to risk his wicket in the second innings was a lesson to teammates as Australia strive for a return to the top of the Test rankings.
"What Watto did the other day was put the team first," Clarke told reporters.
"He knew we were trying to score as many runs as we could before our declaration and he put the team first, which is a great example to the young players that that's what we're trying to do in our team. It's good to see."
Watson made a slow start to the back-to-back Ashes series, but he has scored two centuries in four Tests to suggest Australia might have finally found their solution at number three in the batting order.
Before Watson's ton at The Oval in August, the last hundred from an Australian first drop was Shaun Marsh in Sri Lanka two years previous.
"It's obviously a tough position, there's no doubt about it," Clarke said. "Watto is hitting the ball as good as I've seen."
Clarke also paid tribute to the role Australia's medical staff have played in reclaiming the Ashes.
Team physio Alex Kountouris kept Clarke in action despite his chronic back problems, doctor Peter Brukner turned the injury-prone Watson into a regular contributor and Ryan Harris is preparing for his eight consecutive Test after injury-blighted years.
"Alex and the doc Peter have done a fantastic job," said Clarke, who also credited Cricket Australia for putting a greater emphasis on the domestic four-day Sheffield Shield competition leading into the Ashes.
"We're currently ranked fifth in the world. We want to be the number one Test team."