Clarke and Watson, what have you done?
So this is Christmas, and what have you done? Another year over, a new one just begun. John Lennon had weighty issues on his mind when he wrote those lyrics in a Vietnam War protest song in 1971. Australia's cricketers are involved in nothing so momentous but they can still ask themselves the same question as 2012 draws to a close. What have you done? The captain Michael Clarke and vice-captain Shane Watson would give vastly different answers.
From a personal point of view, Clarke could hardly have achieved more in Tests in 2012. No Australian batsman has scored more runs in a year than the 1595 Clarke has so far accumulated. That included three double-centuries and a triple-hundred. While Clarke hasn't missed a Test in 2012, Watson has sat out of five through injury. In the six he has played, he has averaged 31.45 with the bat and 49.16 with the ball. He hasn't made a century or taken more than one wicket in an innings, though he has contributed to wins, like his final-day 52 in Barbados.
On the second day at the MCG, Clarke and Watson combined for a 194-run partnership that batted Australia into a position from which they should win again. It was an important stand and it ensured that Australia's strong bowling performance on Boxing Day was not wasted. But both men had multiple lives against a struggling Sri Lankan attack further weakened by the loss of the lead fast bowler, Chanaka Welegedara, to injury. No Test runs are soft, but most are scored at a higher intensity than was required here.
Clarke used the opportunity to score his fifth century of 2012 and for the first time this year didn't turn his hundred into at least a double. He was out for 106. For nearly every other batsman in history, that would be significantly above average. For Clarke this year, 106 was precisely his average. Watson made 83 before he was caught at deep midwicket, obligingly hooking straight down the throat of a fieldsman. He had done a job, but didn't cash in like Clarke so often has.
For nearly a decade, Watson has been viewed as a player of immense Test potential. At 31, he still is. But will he ever truly fulfill that promise? He has made valuable contributions with both bat and ball, but could have achieved so much more. Of course, it is hard to gain momentum when a player is injured as often as Watson. Clarke has missed nine Tests since his 2004 debut, including those for which he was dropped. Watson, who debuted three months later, has missed 50.
Watson remains one of Australia's most important players. Who else can bat in the top six and act as a genuine fifth bowler? But Australia need more from him with the bat if he is to settle into the No.4 role vacated by Ricky Ponting. Centuries are not everything in Test cricket but his conversion rate - two tons from 21 scores above fifty - must improve. He cannot afford to lose concentration, not with difficult tours of India and England coming up next year.
Perhaps his 83 at the MCG will be a stepping stone. He occupied the crease for 265 minutes and with the exception of his two centuries, it was his longest Test innings in terms of duration. Against Rangana Herath, Watson's play-from-the-crease approach was noticeable compared to Clarke's light-footed style, and more than next year's Ashes tour Watson's big challenge in 2013 will be to handle the spin-friendly conditions in four Tests in India.
Australia need a big year from Watson, just as they require more of the same from Clarke. The chances of Clarke batting again in this match are slim, and his 106 would be a fine way to cap off a remarkable 2012. It was a year that began with an unbeaten 329 against India at the SCG followed by 210 in Adelaide, and also included 259 not out against South Africa in Brisbane and 230 in the next Test in Adelaide. They are Bradman-like figures and in all of Test history only Bradman averaged more as a Test captain than Clarke has, of players who have led their country at least 10 times.
His Melbourne hundred was good, not great, but as his first Test century at the MCG it was important to Clarke. He celebrated with a hug from his batting partner, Watson, and at the drinks break that immediately followed, one from the team physio Alex Kountouris, whose work had helped Clarke recover from his hamstring injury in time to play this match. But for all that he has achieved this year, Clarke will be judged on how he performs in 2013. He knows it, so he is not getting ahead of himself.
"Not much, and I mean that in the right way," Clarke said when asked what his immense 2012 figures meant to him. "Numbers have never really bothered me too much. It's nice to be making runs and leading by example as one of the leaders in the team. I think it's really important that the captain is doing that. But to me it is about winning games … as long as we keep winning, that's my priority."
After next week's Sydney match against Sri Lanka, that means four Tests in India and 10 Ashes Tests. The major blot of Ponting's captaincy career was his inability to lead Australia to an Ashes triumph away from home. In 2012, Clarke bettered Ponting's best calendar year. If his 2013 is anything like it, he might achieve something else Ponting never did.
A productive vice-captain Watson at No.4 - and a Watson who can string together a full year of cricket - would be an enormous help.
Brydon Coverdale is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here