Australia v South Africa, 3rd Test, Perth November 28, 2012

Watson ready to push himself


Shane Watson has bowled 71 first-class overs in the past year. Peter Siddle delivered nearly that many in the Adelaide Test alone. Watson has bowled with the red ball in only one match this summer - the Sheffield Shield game in which he broke down after four overs. Since the start of last season, he has sent down fewer first-class deliveries than Simon Katich. And yet Australia will rely heavily on Watson to ease the workload of the frontline fast men when the Perth Test starts on Friday.

It is easy to forget how little long-form cricket Watson has played in recent times. His presence around the squad, and his omnipresence in Twenty20s and one-dayers around the world never keep him away from a headline or a highlights package. But the decider against South Africa at the WACA will be Watson's first Test on home soil since the disastrous 2010-11 Ashes campaign. How his body will cope remains to be seen, but he is confident that his most recent calf injury is behind him.

"Over the last week I've been gradually building up my running and my bowling," Watson said in Perth on Wednesday. "I bowled six overs in the nets yesterday before we left in Adelaide so I'm certainly going to be up to bowling as many overs as Michael [Clarke] wants and probably the normal sort of workload really that I bowl in a Test match. Things have progressed really well over the past week so I'm ready to go."

He needs to be. The heavy burden shouldered by Siddle and Ben Hilfenhaus in Adelaide, where the loss of James Pattinson early in the match left Australia one bowler short, will make Clarke reluctant to ask too much of them, given the short break between games. Put simply, it is unlikely the Australians will have the luxury of easing Watson back in with one or two overs here or there, and despite his serious lack of red-ball bowling over the past year, he believes he is up to it.

"I understand that could be a possibility and at the moment that's the biggest challenge for Ben and Peter for their mammoth effort in second innings to be able to freshen up as quick as they can," he said. "I do understand there will be a possibility of me bowling as many overs as I need to, to be able to help the team hopefully win. But in the end my body is on the condition to be able to do it, so I'm certainly fresh over the past couple of weeks compared to some of the other guys that have been out there."

Fresh is one way of putting it. But the line between being fresh and underdone can be a thin one. That's something Watson has come to learn the hard way over the course of his career. Rushing back too soon from injury has cost Watson in the past, and he has had more time than most players to ponder the best balance for his game. Typically, bowling has caused or exacerbated his many injuries, even though his batting at the top of the order is his primary role within Australia's Test side.

The Adelaide Test marked an unwanted milestone for Watson: it was the 50th Test he had missed since his debut in 2005. Although he might have been left out of some of the early matches for reasons of form or team balance, the vast majority of his absences have been due to injury, and the numbers are staggering when compared with his batting team-mate Michael Hussey, who also debuted in 2005 and has played 75 Tests without missing one.

But despite the frequency with which he has been sidelined, Watson remains unwilling to consider himself a specialist batsman. In his own mind, he remains an allrounder, and it would take a drastic course of events for him to change his thinking - more drastic, that is, than missing more Tests than he plays.

"Not unless something goes very horribly wrong, I wouldn't want to give up on bowling," he said. "One part I love of the game - I know it puts more pressure on my body to be able to play consistently but it's something I just love so much and have loved doing since I was an allrounder since I was a young kid. The ultimate enjoyment for me is to play as an allrounder. Mentally the injury setbacks are frustrating at times, but it doesn't take away the love of being able to contribute with bat and ball."

Brydon Coverdale is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Harvey on November 29, 2012, 22:58 GMT

    I can see him reinjuring himself. Why bring him back for this test, let him rest till the next series. If he gets injured again, he probably wont make the next series. His bowling or batting isnt great anyway. He should retire from tests and focus on ODI and T20. He is far better at the shorter game anyway

  • Sello on November 29, 2012, 18:22 GMT

    Actually what the Aussies are saying is that Watson isn't good enough to be selected for batting only. Shouldn't your no. 4 be one of the most dependable batsman? i.e. Kallis, SRT, KP, etc. I say no. 4 because that's where they say he is going to bat at after Ponting retires.

  • Subba on November 29, 2012, 13:02 GMT

    If he bowls he'll break down after 5 genuine overs. He's now a consummate T20 cricketer. dont think he'll take too many risks going flat out with his bowling.

  • Andrew on November 29, 2012, 6:34 GMT

    @SDR_ on (November 28 2012, 17:59 PM GMT) - I am a massive Ferguson fan, & he is doing well this year, but I think he has not got the overall track record to prove himself in a Test match. There has to be a reason why someone as talented as he, only averages about 36 in FC cricket. I'd have him in my ODI side for certain.

  • Andrew on November 29, 2012, 1:15 GMT

    Too much time in the gym ... that is the problem with most bowlers these days. Throw away your gym membership and all of a sudden your fitness problems will go away.

    Being muscle bound doesn't equate with being fit.

  • mark on November 29, 2012, 1:04 GMT

    Watson is a very hungry cricketer, but he is a 'snacker'. He nibbles on regular fifties, quick wickets, or a catch in the slips. Snacks keep him going, they keep him interested and feeling important. His diet does not include the monumental feasts of a big 100, a 5-for, or diving at point. Let him keep snacking, it eats away at the opposition.

  • Andrew on November 29, 2012, 0:47 GMT

    @The_bowlers_Holding on (November 28 2012, 15:10 PM GMT) - statistically, Watto is superior to Flintoff in both disciplines, however, I know what you mean & I do concede that IF I were a Test batsmen, I'd be much more worried about Freddie's bowling than Watto's! == == == Watto gives great balance to the Oz side, BUT I am worried about 1) his lack of matches, 2) whether Wato is worried about his body & lack of match practise. Watto doesn't compartmentalise enuff when batting & point #2 is probably more worrying than point #1!!!!!

  • Michael on November 28, 2012, 23:29 GMT

    Fair's fair - let's compare the number of overs Watson has bowled in first class cricket to another player who also missed the majority of the home summer, shall we? By my reckoning, Watson played in the series against South Africa (26.5 overs), one match of the Shield last summer (12 overs), played in the West Indies (55 overs), and one match this summer (4 overs). That's 97.5. Pat Cummins, a bowler, bowled 44 overs against South Africa, and hasn't played First Class cricket since. Katich, by the way, bowled 72 overs in the Shield last season and 33 for Hampshire in the English summer. In total he bowled 105 overs in 23 matches. Watson bowled 98 in 8.

  • Patrick on November 28, 2012, 20:22 GMT

    Maybe it is worth rolling out Johnson for Perth & the SL, Watson wants loads of overs, Aust are now used to being down a bowler so they can carry MJ and use him like Warner, in desparation. Preserves those who deserve a chance of going to England. Would love to see our no 1 attack back together, Harris, Siddle, Patto/Cummins/Starc & Watson, fit & in form are as formidable as any pace attack going around.

  • Sam on November 28, 2012, 17:59 GMT

    There's all this talk about how we need replacement batters for the upcoming series with Sri Lanka and obviously the Ashes - just on that I don't know why Callum Ferguson's name isn't being thrown in being 2nd in Shield runs and a proven performer on the international level unlike John Hastings - but what about a replacement all-rounder? We need back up for Watson and that shouldn't be in the form of strictly a bowler or a No. 3, we need versatility, and at the moment the best person for that role is Luke Butterworth. He has proven himself year after year, and has stepped up with the new ball, moving it around and consistently taking bags. Batting at No. 8 as well he averages about 30, and with a few 100's he is more than capable of holding his own. Maturity, consistency, versatility is what he offers and what Australia needs in the wings, not someone who has taken 9 wickets from 7 innings Josh Hazelwood.

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