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Michael Atherton
Cricket Expert & Columnist

The Ashes: James Faulkner's selection is warning to Shane Watson

Clarke - Faulkner deserves his place

James Faulkner's selection for the fifth and final Ashes Test is an indication that Shane Watson's Australian Test career is hanging by a thread, says Mike Atherton.

All-rounder Faulkner, 23, comes into the tourists' line up for his debut along with Mitchell Starc for the clash at the Oval with Jackson Bird and Usman Khawaja making way.

Watson, 32, began the series opening the batting but dropped down the order as David Warner took his place in the second innings at Old Trafford.

But with Australia 3-0 down and Watson averaging only 27 with the bat with one fifty to his name, Atherton told Sky Sports News that the visitors' team selection seems to be sending out a clear message.

"You get the feeling that it's a bit of a last-chance game for Shane Watson, who is back in at number three," reflected the former England captain. "The musical chairs continues!

"Normally you'd pick an all-rounder here and that would give you the chance to play two spinners, certainly on pitches that we've seen at the Oval in recent times.

"It looks as though Michael Clarke is saying to Watson, 'this is the last chance, mate'."

Mike Atherton

"Australia haven't done that - they've picked Watson and Faulkner together and it looks as though Michael Clarke is saying to Watson, 'this is the last chance, mate'.

Character

"It's no surprise that some of the players are playing for their places after a 4-0 defeat in India and going 3-0 down here.

"But Australia just don't know what their best side is; they are hunting around for it and when Clarke spoke about Faulkner the number of times he mentioned Faulkner's character, competitiveness and toughness suggest that maybe Australia are going to start picking on character rather than pure ability.

"There is no doubt that if Shane Watson is playing well - he's batting well and scoring runs - that he is a bonus to Australia because he is a number six batsman who bowls a bit and therefore gives them the balance that they crave.

"But at the moment he is not scoring runs and therefore he's definitely under pressure for his place and I'm sure that when you look at Faulkner's selection, Australia are saying 'we've got another all-rounder here'."

Handful

Tremlett set to replace Bresnan

England - bidding to win a home Ashes series 4-0 for the first time - have yet to name their side with Surrey's Chris Tremlett vying for a starting spot with Middlesex's Steven Finn.

Tremlett, 31, played the most recent of his 11 Tests against Pakistan in January 2012 but after overcoming a back problem is in contention for a spot once again after Tim Bresnan was forced to withdraw through injury.

The seamer excelled for England when he was drafted into the 2010/11 Ashes side Down Under, taking match figures of 8-150 at Perth and finishing the series with 17 wickets at 23 apiece in three Tests.

With a winter tour to Australia on the horizon - and this week's Test taking place on Tremlett's home ground - Atherton says this might just be the right time to recall the 6ft7in bowler.

"I think his rehabilitation has been fairly gingerly handled but they've always had an eye on this return series Down Under because if he can get back to anywhere near the form and fitness that he showed in Australia a couple of winters ago, he's a real handful on bouncy pitches like Brisbane and Perth," said Atherton.

"After the pitches that we've seen in this series, Australia will ask for ones with a bit more zing and pace so somebody like Tremlett becomes a massive player for England.

"It's not clear who will play between Finn and Tremlett but England's fast bowling stocks are quite healthy."

Watch day one of the fifth and final Ashes Test between England and Australia live on Sky Sports Ashes from 10am on Wednesday, or on the Ashes Events Centre available through the Sky Sports App.