It’s July 2009. Australia are 1 nil down going into the 3rd Test of the 2009 Ashes series. Phil Hughes, who has just finished his Chris Martin and Martin Guptill voodoo doll, and soon going to the same rehab clinic as Gautam Gambhir, has been dropped. Who can open? Surely not Watson, a man who’s body is more fragile than Hughes’ forward defence. They chose the man dubbed ‘Watto’. The same ‘Watto’ who last opened in a game that was not a limited overs fixture, for Queensland in 2007. He made 3 ducks, and didn’t make over 30 over 8 knocks. Bold stuff. It paid off. A right handed version of fellow Queenslander Matthew Hayden, although he doesn’t need a massive follow through to get a boundary. In that Ashes series, he made 3 fifties in 3 innings, and looked assured and confident at the top, with textbook on and cover drives, mixed with some powerful pulls.
But just like Phil Hughes is tormented with ‘Caught Guptill, bowled Martin’, Watson is the same when he passes 50. Sort of in the same way that Sachin Tendulkar changes the way he plays around the 70 mark, looking for that elusive 100th hundred. 16 fifties is good, but only two hundreds is a worry. But that brings me to the current Australia –India test
Watson has opened in all forms since that 2009 Ashes contest, and looked like an immovable object. But that injury curse struck again in South Africa, and hasn’t been on the park since. Calf and back troubles have been the worry this time around. But what i’m worried about is where he’ll fit into the side when fit. The new opening partnership of Warner & Cowan, I think has found the right balance to become successful, of a stroke maker/hard hitting player, and the obdurate and watchful player. My view is Shaun Marsh has to go, and Watson moves to the middle order.
I say that because Watson’s bowling workload has increased recently, almost a first or second change bowler in some cases, with his subtle seam movement, nagging length and little inswingers. Bowling lots of overs, then having to face Jimmy Anderson or Dale Steyn with a new rock is a bridge too far. Moved out of the top three, Watson would have more time to re-train his sights. Such a demotion would also sharpen the focus on Watson's bowling, a skill he has wrestled with jettisoning entirely at times during a career more speckled with injury than anyone would have liked.
Because of that, I think Watson could bat at 4, Ricky Ponting back up to 3. I was going to say Michael Clarke to 3, but seeing his record batting at number 4 compared to his customary 5, it doesn’t seem a good fit. When Ponting inevitably goes, Usman Khawaja is a natural and ready made number 3, and should be given a fair crack.
A move down the order could be the trick for Watson to become an elite all rounder. Warner and Cowan are set up top, so why change? What do you guys think out there? Stay opener or go down? Let’s just hope Watto’s body is as reliable as Robin van Persie inside the penalty box from now on. If so, here we come number 1!