I am number four, says Watson
Shuffled almost as often as a deck of cards in a poker den, Shane Watson's itinerant Test match batting career may finally have found a permanent home at No. 4. Since his debut in 2005, Watson has been tried everywhere from No. 7 to opening (including ODIs), but has only now settled into the batting position with which he first became familiar when playing for Tasmania and Queensland before his international career began.
Following Australia's training session at Bellerive Oval on Wednesday, Watson confirmed that he would move down to No.4 to accommodate the recalled Phillip Hughes at No.3, and expressed hope that this would be the post where he would finally settle down as an international allrounder. It is no coincidence that No.4 is also the spot occupied by Jacques Kallis, as the coach Mickey Arthur has made no secret of his desire to have Watson scoring runs with something like the South African's formidable consistency, while also offering substance with the ball.
"I think this is more a permanent move. I hope so anyway," Watson said. "It has certainly tested out what my skills are. I certainly enjoyed opening but it meant I wasn't really able to bowl that much really, considering I was going to have to go in and take the first ball. Four hopefully will suit me really well. I know how important the No.4 spot is.
"To be able to hopefully set up an innings when the platform has already been set for me, or come in and hopefully build a big total if we've lost a few early wickets. It's where I actually started batting when I was playing first-class cricket when I was younger. It's the position I probably know the best from a few years back anyway."
For an Australian side desperate to have Watson graduate from the handy scores he delivered consistently when opening the batting, and the mediocre ones he has turned out when tried elsewhere in the order, there is some useful history to his occupation of the position. No.4 was the site of Watson's highest first-class score, a double-century for Queensland in a Sheffield Shield final, and the position from which he first pushed for international selection with Tasmania.
"That's where I batted for Queensland, and it is where I batted for a bit of my time in Tasmania as well," Watson said. It just gives me that opportunity to be able to bowl the overs that my body allows me to and the captain wants [and] to then be able to freshen up and hopefully be able to bat for a long period of time as well. It'd be nice to be able to get into a position and make it my own by scoring the runs so that hopefully they don't really want to move me anywhere else."
Critical to all this will be Watson's attitude, which has been at its most poised and confident when opening the batting. Regardless of where Watson bats, many of his innings have followed a familiar pattern of early free scoring followed by a gradual slowing in momentum and eventual dismissal for a less than satisfying score. Well aware of the flaw, Watson said he was determined to fight his way through it at No.4.
"It has been my biggest downfall, in Test cricket especially, once I've done all the hard work to be able to sustain my intensity at the crease to be able to get through those periods," Watson said. "I know where I've been falling down and I'm certainly doing everything I can to hope that doesn't occur.
"Batting in the top four I know how important it is to be consistent, then the team can rely on you, its not as hit-and-miss, on your day you have to go on and get a big score and that is something I need to continue on and improve on and get better at. I am certainly working hard mentally because I know it's more mental than technical, because I get through the times when the bowlers are bowling their best and its about being able to hold that intensity in my mind over a long period of time."
By shifting Watson again to accommodate Hughes, Australia's captain Michael Clarke is placing plenty of onus on his deputy to contribute significantly to the team as it learns to deal with life after Ricky Ponting. Both leaders followed Ponting in ways during the session, Clarke taking Hughes, David Warner and Ed Cowan aside for an earnest chat about batting, while Watson took the former captain's mantle as the last to conclude training by requesting an extra catching session.
"I have to step up and everyone has to, just around the group he really has been the heart beat of the group for such a long period of time," Watson said of Ponting. "I never took it for granted the impact that he had on the group, but when he's not there we know a number of us have to step up to do the things Ricky used to do so naturally. So its certainly a big time for the senior players who have to fill that void, but I am not sure if that is ever going to be possible.
"Even at training his energy in the nets, out on the field throwing the stumps down, catching in the slips, whatever he was doing was at the highest intensity and that's the reason he was so good. He helped everyone around him too, he does know the game so intimately, all the technical aspects of batting and fielding, he always helped you out and that is going to be sorely missed, he significantly helped me in aspects of my game. I am certainly staying in contact, he had a huge impact on my career and if it wasn't for Ricky I wouldn't be in the place I am today."
Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here