What-o?

Warning: this is a story about Shane Watson. It’s a positive story.

Something about the criticism of Watson sticks in my craw. The injuries, the reviews, the LBs, the sort of criticism that helped hound Kim Hughes to South Africa.

Even now when I see some eight year-old parrot his dad and make the all-knowing obvious retort about a review, I spew.

So, to lay it to rest, I am going to map out the glorious two years of S.R. Watson. Who batted and bowled as well as most before him, having a patch as our best all-rounder probably since Miller. Nowhere as good as Miller, but pretty good nonetheless.

It’s the Richmond 2017 approach. I am sick of hearing what he couldn’t do. Let’s talk about what he could do.

And then I will let it go.

Backstory

The Watson story begins in the early 2000s when this well-built kid started trying to bowl 145km/h thunderbolts. And bat like Viv Richards. He had potential, so was fast-tracked into the limited overs team There was no spot for him in the Test team, despite a couple of very handy Shield seasons and some big runs in County.

But when we wanted to occasionally pick MacGill as well as Warne, it was thought we needed a Mitch Marsh type to bowl a few overs, take a couple of wickets. To bat 7, with Gilchrist at 6. So Watson got a few tests in 2004-2006. He got a few runs, looked classical, didn’t go on with it. Bowled fast and a got a couple of wickets. And he got a few soft tissue injuries, because he tried too hard and didn’t train as smart as Steve Smith.

They tried Watson and Symonds in that role, Symonds being eventually preferred because he could imitate Funky Miller with some seam and then pseudo-spin. And field the house down.

I didn’t pay much attention to this, we were heading towards serious stuff like buying a house and having our first child and changing jobs and looking after a sick cat.

Then the 2008 tour to India happened. It was a bit of a watershed. The Selectors had churned through MacGill and Hogg, I think Symonds was suspended. So Cam White, who I really rated, and Watson, were picked and played Richie Benaud era all-rounder roles (as in, the teams that had Slasher, Benaud, Johnny Martin and Davo all at the same time.)

It was an interesting series, we lost 2-0 but that flattered India I thought. We made 400+ on a few occasions. Krezja got a bucketful. White got a few good scalps and looked too good for number 8 – which he was. Steve Smith predux!

I saw a fair bit of this series on pay, and it seemed Watson was intent on being like his namesake, Graeme Donald Watson, who was my first hero – and had a penchant for big moments, rather than consistency. He might take no wickets for a couple of games and then get 5-15, or seem out of form with the bat and then clout a rapid 80. Sometimes in the same game.

Watson made 41 in the first test. But his 78 in the second was a gem. He faced 156 balls, hitting one of the best cover drives I had ever seen. Wow, I thought, he really does have the potential the insiders had been talking about. He got 36 in a giant total in the third test and failed in the fourth.

With the ball, considering he was the fourth seamer on spin-friendly tracks, he showed some of the wicket-sense that would become a feature later on – he took four, three, two and one.

Averaging 25 with the bat and 32 with the ball, it was good, not great, but showed promise. There remained questions about which discipline was his strongest.

When the team returned to Australia, they chucked Symonds in the team, too, and batted him ahead of Watson. Watto flopped, and that made it five single digit scores in his last eight knocks. He got a couple of wickets, but Symonds’ pair of 20s saw him retained, and Watson sent back to the Shield.

It was a transitional summer, Hayden failed to hang on, Symonds got the heave, Ronnie McDonald got the call-up for Sydney. Then the selectors picked Phil Hughes and Marcus North. Things looked lost for Watson when Hughes tore the South Africans apart. North batted well and could also bowl. McDonald was a handy squad member. And Mitch Johnson looked a proper all-rounder, smashing tons and breaking fingers. Ricky Ponting liked his new team, calling that series win in South Africa with a bunch of newcomers one of his favourites.

Meanwhile, Watson was averaging 52 with the bat and 18 with the ball in a limited Shield campaign. It was enough to get on him on the plane to England.

By then I was a regular on the Tonk on the SMH website suggesting that Watson could open. I had been saying it all summer, since they got back from India. He had a proper technique, but played shots. The story got a run in the paper version one day, my obsession with this path. But with Hughes going gangbusters it seemed a cry in the wilderness.

The golden years

I won’t bore you with narrative. Because the numbers really speak for themselves. Before being recalled – as opener, as suggested – at Edgbaston for the can’t lose third test in 2009, he had one 50 and no 5-fors. Then…

Versus England

Third test: 62 and 53

Fourth test: 51 and 34

Fifth test: 40

Averaged 48 opening in England in a losing Ashes series

Versus West Indies

Second test: 96 and 48

Third test: 89 and 30

Versus Pakistan

First test: 93 and 120*

Second test: 97

Averaged 60 for the home summer, opening against Roach, Taylor, Amir, Asif etc

He also took 13 handy wickets in six tests i.e. one an innings on average.

Versus New Zealand

First test: 65

So, in that flurry of 11 tests in eight months, after moving to opener, he scored one ton, eight 50s and took some wickets.

Versus Pakistan

First test: 5-40

Second test: 6-33

Averaged ten for the series. (And not much more with the bat.)

Versus India

First test: 126 and 56

Second test: 57 and 32

Averaged 68 in a 2-0 loss.

Versus England

First test: 36 and 41*

Second test: 51 and 57

Third test: 95

Fourth test: 54

Fifth test: 45 and 38

In summary, he scored more than 400 runs at nearly 50, opening against Anderson, Tremlett and Bresnan, in a humiliation.

This was the end of Watson’s golden run. Clarke replaced Ponting as captain and Katich, his partner, was gone. After missing a summer with a calf, injury he bowled less, and Ed Cowan had been brought into open. Watson was shuffled down to three, which, due to the pace off the ball, didn’t suit him and often a slow run rate to contend with (Cowan being Cowan).

Still, it’s worth recapping that glorious run of tests. Averaging 50 at the top of the order against quality quicks, while taking handy wickets including some bags. Fielding well. Starring in the limited overs formats too.

That is how he won consecutive Allan Border Medals, for the best cricketer in the land.

There were to be many more highlights, but never enough to keep the knockers off his back. Clarke used him as a stock bowler, and he rarely got the chance to open, batting as low as six, which never suited his aggressive style. And there were more injuries. For example, after Clarke used for him almost 50 over against Sri Lanka in Hobart. These were the days of ‘he has to bowl to hold his place’, despite having a batting average well over 40 at that stage.

Other highlights:

  • The ridiculous 5-17 in South Africa, in that bizarre test when Australia made 47 runs;
  • The strong finish to the 2013 Ashes series; the 68 batting at six in the Fourth test, which was arguably better than the 178 on Day one in the Fifth;
  • The solid 2013-14 return, an underrated 50 in Adelaide and then calypso ton in Perth. But the best innings was the 80* in the chase with Rogers at Melbourne, a very mature counter-attacking knock;
  • Captaining Australia in India. Not bad after being dropped for eating in class or whatever it was;
  • Double cameos in his recall test against South Africa, smashing them around at six to enable the declarations that won us the test with an over to spare;
  • Helping Smith with 84 overs in the India series in 2014-15, keeping it tight on the flat decks as Lyon was getting tonked seriously. He bowled almost 30 overs in Sydney, which had to affect his batting, but was still lampooned for getting out for 81.
  • Having the good grace to retire after being dropped, and allowing Mitchell Marsh a long run at it. A 20-test run in which Marsh averaged about half with the bat and 10 more with the ball than what Watson did in his first 20 tests.

So, Watson’s final record is not a true indicator of his worth as a cricketer. He was pivotal in providing a winnable structure as we continued to struggle in the period between dominant teams. He put his hand up to open, and smashed it.

Thirty-five with the bat and 32 with the ball is better than just about anyone we have had try that role (Symonds got 40 with the bat and 37 with the ball, but not opening). If you consider the following:

  1. the rigours of opening;
  2. the effect of injuries;
  3. unclear role definition under Clarke; and
  4. the lack of support eg HomeworkGate,

he was good enough to average 40 with the bat and 30 with the ball. Imagine if Renshaw or Bancroft or Burns or anyone managed that!

But in that period from 2009-11 he was even better. He was as good an all-rounder type as we have had since Miller.

Which isn’t saying much – but it’s still worth saying.

About Peter Warrington

Richmond fan; Kim Hughes tragic; geographer; kids’ book author; Evertonian; Manikato; Harold Park trots 1980; father of two; cat lover, dancer with dogs; wannabe PJ HArvey backing vocalist; delusional…

Comments

  1. Salient points all round. A damn fine cricketer.

    Sent home then weirdly called back to Captain.

    His onfield presence didn’t so him any favours in terms of public perception.

    That can probably be said of Clarke (offield) and Ponting.

  2. crankypete says:

    yes i really don’t know how Clarke’s captaincy survived that slap in the face. a truly bizarre period, where the 2013-14 Ashes papered over the ructions in the team, with Lehmann good bloking everyone towards the inevitable coup de grace in England in 15 and then Hobart.

    see how we are really travelling when we get to SA.

    as for Watto, our contact in the Thunder Women has nothing but good to say about him. Gives 1 million per cent and is ego free. they love him in that less faux-macho world called India, too…

  3. Luke Reynolds says:

    Dropping him to 3 after a very good run as opener was hard to understand. Wonder how good an opener he could have been if he didn’t bowl?
    Then there’s his outstanding ODI career.
    Maybe it’s the all-rounders lot to be heavily criticised. Unless you’re playing like Keith Miller.

  4. Good read Pete. We forget these good performance , focusing more on his injuries or what might have been.

    Keith Miller was unique, those types like Don Bradman, Shane Warne, Adam Gilchrist, are once a century players.

    You’re right , he is a good an all rounder as we’ve had since Keith Miller. No, not much to compare: Phil Carlson, Simon O’Donnell, for example. But does an all rounder have to bowl medium pace ? Why can’t a spinner like Glenn Maxwell be given the opportunities, Mitch Marsh has had. Possibly Mitch Marsh will be a better test player, but ???

    Glen!

  5. Peter Warrington says:

    Luke, I guess he opened the door for Cowan when he was injured for 11/12. Cowan made an OKish fist of it. Personally I would have brought Watson back to open and had Cowan at 3 (however I always thought they should have been looking younger, I always think that.)

    For me it was a bit of a flow-on from other things, including bowler rotation – Clarke preferred to have him there as a stock bowler to avoid overload/respond to an injury. This blunted both his bowling, and his batting 0- which was shame, because he was a sensational swing bowler and pretty game-smart in that regard, and also a bit jammy like Botham. With that came the inevitable (and resultant) “he has to be bowling to be in the team – as he was now averaging 40 a season not 50.

    When he was under Ponting, and batting the house down, he was an attacking change bowler in the Doug Walters style. Doing that opening the batting, and being good enough to get 4’s and 5’s – wow, what a package. It would be like Bancroft bowling great chinamen (like D’Arcy Short… or Katich!) Ponting seemed to know how good that was. Clarke, and the Australian public, less so…

    Glen,Graeme Watson. he was the one!

    I always mean to do an analysis of Miller (and his only comparator, Imran).

    I mean, you can’t average 37 and 22 at the same time. So do you get that by having series where you average 70 with the bat, and series where you average 20, and are those latter ones these where you go for 18 with the ball rather than 30.

    Maybe you can… but my desktop impression of Miller is actually what some wanted of Watson – the occasional big score, the occasional big bag. Just middling results most of the time. Not demeaning his genius, he averaged 50 with the bat in FC before his test career and probably could have averaged 45 easily (a) if he cared; (b) if it was needed; and/or (c) if he had focussed more on his batting and less on his bowling.

    Which maybe implies that he could have averaged Davo’s 20 with the ball if he specialised more with his bowling. Scary!

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