Shane Watson is desperate to be an allrounder who bats in the middle order and dominates like Freddie Flintoff. Then he wants to open the batting and still bowl his full overs. Then he’s happy to move down the order to three, as it puts less stress on him. Then he’s content to bat at four, and that it will help him bowl more overs. Now he’ll bat anywhere, but probably gets that his body won’t let him bowl.
That is Shane Watson.
But that is also the Australian selectors. Shane Watson is the biggest headache and most confusing question the selectors have at the moment. Before the Adelaide Test there was more than enough noise that they couldn’t play Watson just as a batsman, and now Watson is just a batsman, they have to work out where to get the best out of him, if they want him at all. Today Mickey Arthur has suggested he may have to go back to opening.
Watson is pure throbbing talent. Large, powerful, deadly and mean. He picked up attacks at the World T20 and shook them down. In the IPL he looks better than entire franchises. In ODIs he’s a consistent wrecking ball.
But in Test cricket he’s an LBW candidate who gets bogged down and doesn’t make hundreds.
In Test cricket he’s mostly myths.
Watson the opening aggressor
One of the most common incorrect thoughts in cricket is that Shane Watson is an attacking opener. It’s simply not true. Sure, for a couple of overs, on the odd occasion, he will slash outside off stump and muscle some pulls, but once he gets to 20 or 30, he stops. And when Watson stops in Test cricket, he’s cadaverous.
Virender Sehwag’s opening strike-rate is 82.
Tillakaratne Dilshan’s opening strike-rate is 71.
Graeme Smith’s opening strike-rate is 59.
Simon Katich’s opening strike-rate is 49.
Alastair Cook’s opening strike-rate is 47.
Ed Cowan’s opening strike-rate is 43.
Watson’s is 52. That means that in terms of quick-scoring opening batsmen, Watson is marginally closer to Smith than he is to Cowan. And Dilshan and Sehwag are distant dreams.
Watson is a plodding opening batsman who can hit powerful boundaries. More Jason Arnberger than Matthew Hayden.
Watson is a part-time bowler
Some people will suggest that Watson’s bowling isn’t that important. That due to his body and the many, many, many changes in action he is nothing more than a trundling medium pacer who can take up a few overs when the ball is older.
Watson has a Test average of 30 with the ball. His economy is under 3. And he has three five-wicket hauls. He’s a proper fifth bowler who can bowl with the new ball and get movement. Bowl with an old ball and get reverse swing. And be used as a bowler who can keep the runs down.
In 2011, as an opener who was underbowled, he averaged 19 from six Tests and has won Australia Tests with the ball. Sometimes with game-changing wickets, sometimes by the number of wickets he has taken.
He’s clever, he’s cocky and when he doesn’t bowl Australia feels the nakedness of not having a legitimate fifth bowler.
Watson’s in bad form because he isn’t opening
It seems amazing that anyone, especially those in the Australian team bubble, would consider that Watson should be moved back to opening the batting and dropping Cowan. Forget that Cowan’s ugly, yet ultimately effective 36, might have been the difference between them winning and losing a Test match in Sydney. Cowan has averaged 32 opening the batting for Australia in 2012-13, with a hundred against the best bowling attack in the world, and in 2011 Watson averaged just 24 doing the same job.
In 2012, not opening the batting, Watson averaged 31. Watson’s loss of form in Test cricket seems to have come from teams targeting his massive front pad, his inability to turn the strike over with the field set in anything other than full attack mode and his lack of conversions from 50 to 100s.
Overall Watson still averages 43 opening the batting, but that was mostly earned early on, when he was doing very well. Now he’s simply not doing well, no matter where he bats.
Those expecting a return to form batting at the top of the order may find a rude surprise.
Watson is a batsman
Batsmen score hundreds. Allrounders score fifties. Sure that is a generalization, but you know, that’s kind of how it works unless you’re a Sobers or Kallis. Watson can bat, but that’s not being a batsman. There is more to it than that. He seems, either mentally or physically, not able to make the large scores that other batsmen make at the top level.
Watson simply does not score enough Test hundreds to bat at the top of the order. In 38 Tests he has two hundreds and 19 half-centuries. It’s the reason he averages 37 and not 42. Top-order batsmen need to score big hundreds. Watson knows this, and his desperation for the big score has even gotten him out before.
Batsmen work through their innings, not hit and stop like Watson.
Watson can’t bat in the middle order
When Watson first played Tests for Australia he was brought in as an allrounder who batted at seven. Eventually he was moved up to six. In both positions he was a disaster. But Watson as a cricketer was a bit of a disaster at that point. His body was useless. He gave more press conferences than faced balls. His place in the Australian team never felt secure. And he didn’t seem to really know his game at all. That he failed then was not a big surprise. He would have also failed as an opener in that time, but his form was so bad that no one would have tried him there.
Things are different now, Watson’s place in the world is secure, and he knows that he can master worldwide attacks. But perhaps he should try it in the middle order much the way he bats in ODI cricket.
An average of mid to high 30s batting at No.6 with a high strike-rate and bowling when he is fit could be very useful to a team that currently has no No.6 and four openers. It could also unshackle Watson, who just doesn’t look comfortable as a top-order stalwart, but seems perfectly made as a middle-order enforcer.
Or Australia could try him at No.5, as in 38 Tests they’ve tried him in every other position from 1-7.
If that doesn’t work, perhaps Watson could bowl some spin.