Australia v Sri Lanka, 2nd Test, Melbourne, 2nd day December 27, 2012

Clarke and Watson, what have you done?

Michael Clarke and Shane Watson have had vastly different years but Australia's captain and vice-captain must both stand up in 2013

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

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Graham on December 28, 2012, 9:55 GMT

    Ok point taken Landl47 - However I took Pattinson and Harris stats from the start of last summer. Finn we havent seen enough of yet whilst there are several players you havent seen enough of either. But if your judging your team on form against South Africa over the last 12 months surely lyon has to be picked in front of Swann. His average has been inflated by having so many games in subcontinent conditions. We only played one test against India in the last 12 months so I would doubt that game has made much difference on the bowling averages.

  • Dirk on December 28, 2012, 7:12 GMT

    I find composing a statsguru query hard, but modifying one is easy. So change "orderby=batting_average" in the URL to "orderby=runs" to see which captain-batsman, by a large margin, has been most prominent the history of test cricket.

  • Jason on December 28, 2012, 7:06 GMT

    @Syed Saad Sohail, personally I'd drop Herath for Swann and have Starc, Anderson, Cummings, Finn as a back up 3rd Seamer to replace Ajmal outside the sub continent. You might also consider replacing AB with KP.

    Good win for the Aussies, though we must not forget this SL side is a shadow of what it was 2 years ago, and a very pale shadow of 4-5 years ago, especially outside the sub-continent.

    Clarkes done well lets hope hes peaked and hits a trough around jul 2013 that lasts until say 12th Jan 2014 ;).

    Looking forward to the ashes now, the only major concern for the aussies is keeping all their bowling options injury free.

  • John on December 28, 2012, 6:49 GMT

    @Shaggy076: Nice try, but of course you're wrong. Harris and Pattinson both average over 30 in tests played in the last 12 months. Johnson's only played 2 tests and Bird 1 and both of them padded their figures in this test against some sorry Sri Lanka batting. That leaves Siddle, Hilf and Starc. They all have better figures than Finn, though Siddle and Hilf did it by getting a hatful of wickets against India. To see what that's worth, check Broad's figures in 2011. The telling stat is that none of the Aussie bowlers has come anywhere near matching Finn's 8-149 match figures against the South Africans this year. Starc's best was 8-209, Siddle's was 6-195 and Hilf's 4-114. Johnson had the best Aus figures with 6-164.

    Finn's a very fine bowler. The worry is that he's had some injuries, but Aus knows all about injuries to young pace bowlers. Hopefully he'll be fit for the Ashes and after that we can make some comparisons which mean something.

  • Dummy4 on December 28, 2012, 6:40 GMT

    You're right Brydon. What has he done for Australia in Tests? Deport him to India I say. We'll take him even if wants to bowl left handed.

  • Yusuf on December 28, 2012, 6:36 GMT

    @Dubious....De Villiers was among the best batsman when he wasn't keeping...On form yes, Hussey edges him out...but i really believe keeping is really affecting his performance(barring a very good innings at Perth)...and prior is easily the best wicketkeeper-batsman at the moment so he can take the the gloves from devilliers...also hussey is 37!(not a big factor as long as keeps playing well..but he may only have around 2 more years left)

  • Dummy4 on December 28, 2012, 6:16 GMT

    any best 11 team has to have virat kohli in it...i think hes the one to watch out for in tests in 2013...

  • Jeff on December 28, 2012, 6:13 GMT

    Tough to pick a Test 11. I'd be more inclined to select a squad and name a team for the conditions. So here are my 15 best players (in alphabetical order): Amla, Chanderpaul, Clarke, Cook, Hussey, Johnson, Kallis, Morkel, Philander, Pietersen, Prior, Sangakkara, Smith, Steyn, Swann. (And I'd have Smith as captain and Clarke as vice captain.) Two contentious player selections in that list - for most others, I imagine - are Pietersen and Johnson. But in my mind, both are match winners and game changers. I'd have Johnson every day of the week; while having Smith as captain means you'd have a better chance of managing the fluctuating talent and temperament of Pietersen.

  • Dummy4 on December 28, 2012, 6:10 GMT

    Why do they always have to be so negative towards Watson? Is a 100 worth it if your Team does not win? Watson Contributes Regular with Bat and Ball maybe has not had the Best year or 2, But questioning his worth every Possible time does not exactly Inspire, If any one is under pressure would it not it be Wade?

  • Ross on December 28, 2012, 5:49 GMT

    Surely Khawaja deserves a chance now to replace Watson. He would have been a close second to Hughes for Ponting's replacement, just missed out on replacing Clarke for the MCG and now has to be third time lucky. If the selectors don't reward him and pick Maxwell it will show that the Argus review is not being followed but i am confident in the NSP selection panel as they have been getting their selections correct. For the bowling Starc should come in for the Sydney test in his homeground but who will they rest. It would have to be Bird but he did well

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