This tournament is fast becoming the search for Australia’s middle order. It’s weak, wounded and clutching rare gems, but first you have to get past the gate keeper. For the fourth time in four matches Shane Watson swatted away anyone who came near the Australian middle order. He has climbed halfway up the World Twenty20 tower clutching the Australian middle order in his large sweaty palm, and will have to be brought down by someone or something special for anyone to see this middle order.
There was a time when Dale Steyn looked like the man who could bring down Watson. Steyn was fast and on song, and Australia barely limped out of the gate. Dave Warner struggled to get bat on ball, Watson was subdued and Steyn seemed to lift Morkel as well. There were plays and misses and the scoring rate was low. South Africa looked confident and Australia appeared meek. The talk started to be about Australia’s first real test of the tournament, people wanted to know what were Australia made of. They’re made of Shane Watson.
After four overs Australia were 15 for 1 but when Steyn was taken out of the attack, Watson opened up. The next four overs went for 45, and Australia went from nervous to magnificent. Jacques Kallis, Morne Morkel, Johan Botha, Robin Peterson and Wayne Parnell all were dealt with like they were pesky net bowlers. Fours were smashed, sixes were cracked. At one stage Watson almost blasted a ball through the rib cage of long off. South Africa collapsed in much the same way Ireland, West Indies and India did.
In this tournament Australia have lost seven wickets. England lost that many in about eight minutes on one night. Tournaments like this are often won by one man, Shahid Afridi in 2009 and Kevin Pietersen in 2010, but neither of them had half the impact that Watson has already had. The most wickets in a world T20 ever is 14, Watson has 10. The most runs in a world T20 is 317, Watson has 234.
At the moment he is mis-hitting sixes, bouncing out the world’s best batsmen, and taking a team that was rightfully a laughing stock and making them their favourite for the whole tournament. It can’t last, can it? There are three matches left for Australia if they make the final, and Watson can’t be man of the match in all three of them, no one could be man of the match in seven straight games.
The next match will be against Pakistan, the team that defeated Australia 2-1 in the UAE as a warm up to this event. The team that reaffirmed the notion that Australia’s middle order is fragile and their play of spin is suspect. Watson was there and made two 40-odds and took a wicket each match. That was the Watson of a few weeks ago, the human Watson. Nothing like the carnivorous man-beast we now see before us.
This Shane Watson is master of the universe. In his grip is Australia’s middle order and Australia’s chance of winning the tournament. Watson’s holding them tight in one hand, while knocking out everyone else with the other.