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Watson Injury Hands Quiney Australia Debut, S. Africa Favoritism

Australia all-rounder Shane Watson was ruled out of this week’s first cricket Test against South Africa because of a calf strain, an injury that pushed the touring team into favoritism to win the series opener.

Rob Quiney, a 30-year-old left-hander, will take Watson’s No. 3 batting spot and make his Test debut at the Gabba in Brisbane, Australia coach Mickey Arthur said today.

Quiney scored 85 and 11 not out for Australia’s second-string team against South Africa in the tour match that finished in a draw yesterday in Sydney. Even so, Watson’s absence has made Australia the outsider at a Brisbane ground where it’s unbeaten in 23 matches going back to 1988, according to Tabcorp Holdings Ltd.

“The loss of Shane Watson has seen the market swing around with South Africa now favorites in Brisbane,” Tabcorp spokesman Matt Jenkins said. “Early money indicates the Aussies will be up against it in the opening Test and the series.”

Watson, who averages 37.54 with the bat and has taken 59 wickets at 28.91 apiece in 35 Tests, injured his calf while playing in a state game at the weekend. Since January 2009, he’s scored 2,071 runs at an average of 42.26, including two centuries and 17 half-centuries.

Quiney averages 37.70 with the bat in first-class cricket was last season named as Australia’s State Player of the Year. He scored a century at the Gabba last month while playing for the Victoria state team against Queensland.

“Rob deserves his opportunity,” Arthur said at a televised news conference. “I certainly think that players performing need to get picked, guys who have been doing the hard yards. Rob’s certainly done that.”

Arthur added that he’s “very confident” top-order batsman Ricky Ponting will play after he was pulled from a state match on Nov. 2 as a precaution because of hamstring soreness.

The first of three Tests between the teams starts Nov. 9 in Brisbane before the series moves to Adelaide then Perth.

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