Hong Kong - Australian vice-captain Shane Watson broke ranks on Wednesday to speak of his bafflement over Cricket Australia's decision to dump batting partner Simon Katich from its list of 25 contracted players.
The record-breaking Watson described the 35-year-old Katich as a "mate" and said the experienced left-hander had up to two years of international-level cricket left in him.
"I was very disappointed to be totally honest because I've built up a really good friendship and opening partnership with Simon over the last two years and I've had a lot of fun batting with him," said Watson, 30, who was in Hong Kong to promote the International Cricket Council's five-day annual conference.
Katich, a 56-Test veteran, was told earlier this month that he had been cut from Cricket Australia's 25-man list of contracted players for the 2011-12 season, despite being one of the country's most consistent performers.
Katich branded the decision "absolutely ridiculous" and Watson backed him, saying: "For me, it was really disappointing because I still felt that he had another at least year or two of good cricket still in him."
"Being an opening partnership you do become a lot closer because you are taking on the best bowlers in the world together and you need a mate out there to be able to help you out," he added.
Watson's criticism of the selectors' decision follows a similar broadside from former Test skipper Ricky Ponting, who said two weeks ago he was shocked by Cricket Australia's snub to Katich.
Watson emerged as the key opener after the retirements of Matthew Hayden and Adam Gilchrist, hammering back-to-back centuries against England and New Zealand to help his side win the 2009 Champions Trophy in South Africa.
The right-handed all-rounder hit a world-record 15 sixes in his unbeaten 185 off 96 balls as Australia defeated Bangladesh by nine wickets in March.
Watson was named vice-captain, with captain Michael Clarke becoming a largely unpopular choice to replace Ponting as skipper, following Australia's World Cup exit.
The Baggy Greens, seeking a fourth successive title, were knocked out in the quarter-finals when they lost to India in Ahmedabad in March.
The disappointment followed the bitter blow of the home Ashes series loss to old rivals England.
"I think Michael's going to do an excellent job," Watson said, backing his captain.
"He's got a great knowledge of the game of cricket, he's very aggressive in the way he captains and the way he sets his field."
Watson said it was not yet clear who his new opening partner would be.