Saturday, January 21, 2012

W(h)atto conundrum..

Believe it or not, Shane Watson is 30 years old. Yes, it surprised me too. For a man used to spend as much time on the physio’s table than the padding on it, now mixes up time in front of the mirror to being Australia’s vice captain, and is now Australia’s most valuable player. If someone said that 4 or 5 years back, that would’ve been right. Because nobody else got injured, he was the only one keeping team doctors and physio’s fit! Then and now, thank goodness for Watto.

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!


  1. A well written article, CamNotWhite. I do agree that Watson shouldn't open in tests as he has commitments in the bowling department as well. But, I don't see why he shouldn't open the innings in ODIs and T20Is where the number of overs demanded out of him are very less. An explosive opening batsman like Shane Watson in the opening is what usually brings success in the shorter formats and if David Warner continues with his good form, the perfect Gilchrist - Hayden combination could be made.

    Ed Cowan can be made the opener in tests on a permanent basis but I wonder whether Khawaja is competent enough to replace the greatest batsman of the previous decade, Ricky Ponting that is. Further more, Shaun Marsh shouldn't be judged based on one series, he is 28, with another ten years and I'm sure that he'd use this series against India to learn "What not to do".

    Regarding Australia's number one, I feel as of now, painfully I've to accept, despite being an English supporter, that the baggy green side is the team which deserves to be on the number one spot because it is the only team as of now which is capable of playing in any surface, irrespective of whether it is England or the sub-continent.

  2. Andy...are you on crack??? Australia lost a Test at home to NZ and got larrupped only a year ago by England.

  3. @Anonymous : The England thrashing was last year. Besides, England are a strong team in Australia but they have openly displayed the weakness against Pakistan's spin. Moreover, Australia's new-look side looks very good and they also defeated Sri Lanka at Sri Lanka.