MELBOURNE Shane Watson has stood down as vice captain of Australia in all cricket formats following the test team's humiliating 4-0 series loss to India, citing a need to focus his attention on scoring runs and taking wickets.
The injury-prone 31-year-old's place in Michael Clarke's side has been questioned following the India tour, where he averaged just 16 with the bat and was stood down for the third test along with three other players for failing to complete a team assignment.
"I think it's the right time for a change for both the team and me," Watson said in a statement released by Cricket Australia on Saturday.
"I'll be honest and admit I wrestled with the decision for some time, however once I made up my mind, I informed Cricket Australia so the selectors could consider their options for the Ashes given the squads will be announced soon.
"I want to be the best test player I can be for Australia and think I can do that by stepping down from the vice captaincy to focus my attention on scoring runs, taking wickets and doing whatever is necessary to help the team achieve success.
"I won't be the vice captain in title but I think I can still be a leader and strong contributor around the group."
The India series sounded alarm bells back home ahead of back-to-back Ashes series this year, with the brittle Australian batting order ruthlessly exposed on the subcontinent.
Watson has been among their biggest strugglers, managing only a solitary half-century in his past 14 innings, despite shelving his medium-paced bowling for the India tour.
The barrel-chested Queenslander decided to give up the ball at least temporarily after repeatedly breaking down with injuries. The lighter workload did not lead to more runs, however, and only robbed Australia of an effective wicket-taker.
"Shane Watson should be commended for making the tough call to step down from the vice captaincy to focus on playing," national selector John Inverarity said.
"Regardless, he will still be an important senior leader within the team.
"The national selection panel will now consider and then put a vice captaincy recommendation to the Cricket Australia board for its approval."
The announcement is sure to stoke debate in Australia as to whether Watson stepped down of his own accord or was pushed.
Local media have long speculated he and captain Michael Clarke do not see eye-to-eye and Cricket Australia's high performance manager Pat Howard left few in doubt Watson was under pressure by declaring him only "sometimes" a team player.
After being dumped for the third test in India, Watson flew home to be with his heavily pregnant wife and said he was weighing up his future in the game.
He re-committed to playing for his country and was sensationally reinstated to lead the team to a fourth successive test defeat in the absence of the injured Clarke.
While Watson has had a chequered record as Clarke's deputy, his replacement is likely to attract plenty of scrutiny Down Under, with most of the team inexperienced and out of form.
Openers David Warner and Ed Cowan have been touted for the role by local media, despite boasting only 36 tests between them. (Reporting by Ian Ransom; Editing by Simon Evans/Peter Rutherford)
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