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All-round dilemma for Watson, selectors

Daniel Brettig

December 29, 2012

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Shane Watson made 83, Australia v Sri Lanka, 2nd Test, Melbourne, 2nd day, December 27, 2012
To just bat or be an allrounder? © Getty Images
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Players/Officials: Shane Watson
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Shane Watson will be pushing against the prevailing tide of Australian cricket should he choose to abandon bowling in his search for a way out of the maze of injuries that have blighted his sporadic Test career. In the aftermath of the Boxing Day Test, in which he aggravated a calf niggle he had taken into the match, Watson admitted for the first time that he was seriously considering recasting himself as a batsman to play more consistent sequences for Australia.

The national selectors and the team performance manager Pat Howard have made it patently clear their preference is for Watson to remain an allrounder, in keeping with a policy to push for cricketers as widely skilled as possible. This has been underlined by the selection of the Victorian Glenn Maxwell for the New Year's Test at the SCG, where his assortment of skills will contrast with the one-note batting role Watson may yet turn to.

"At the end of the Test series Shane will have the opportunity to sit down with a few of us and have that discussion," Howard said. "The selectors have been very keen on having people who are multi-skilled across the board. You've seen many of our players bowl this summer, even the wicketkeeper. I think the selectors are open to discussion with any player regarding how they see they can get the best out of them. If Shane Watson opens that dialogue he's free to do that, and to be judged on those performances.

"Very much the selectors do want that multi-skill ability. That's not just about Shane Watson, they love people being able to bat, bowl, field, bring some leadership to the table, and having more than one skill. When the selectors sit down they do look at that ability, but also they look at the mix as well. If Shane or anybody wants to be a batsman only, well somebody else has got to be able to take up the overs.

"That's something selectors think about when they put up a squad of 13 but also when they put up 11. How can they make sure that Michael Clarke, Mickey Arthur, the selectors and the team have a bowling armoury that can work together and deal with a James Pattinson situation from Adelaide. We got exposed there, obviously, it had flow-on effects for Perth and probably flow-on effects afterwards."

The push towards cricketers of greater versatility may presently be linked to reducing the chances of injuries to the squad's younger fast bowlers, but has its origins in the West Australian Sheffield Shield teams of the 1970s led by John Inverarity and his deputy Rod Marsh, now the senior selection figures on the national panel. The emphasis on batsmen who could bowl and vice versa was pronounced enough to mean even wicketkeeper Marsh bowled his quota in the nets. Howard also noted that at 37, the highly valuable Michael Hussey could not be expected to bowl as much as he has in recent times, leaving further slack to take up.

"The reliance on Mike taking at 37 years of age a lot of overs is something we can't rely on," Howard said. "Being able to do the odd over here and there we've seen Dave Warner bowl, so that multi-skill is being pushed. I know Usman Khawaja bowled in the Chairman's XI and got a wicket against Sri Lanka. So that message is getting through from the selectors. Those who work hard on their fielding, work hard on their other attributes … we want that ability to bat deep, we want batsman to bowl, and John Inverarity and Mickey Arthur and the selection panel do drum that in."

Typically, Watson has been reluctant to play when picking up injuries, even minor ones. Yet in Melbourne he played, his calf niggle perhaps overshadowed by the greater doubt surrounding Clarke's hamstring and the presumption that Watson would take up the leadership of the team if the captain failed to prove his fitness.

"It was a niggle, nothing more than that," Howard said. "If you're a professional sportsman you have niggles you have going in. He had a niggle, so did a lot of guys, but it did get worse during the Test match. That [Watson not playing] was a possibility. But we know that he can contribute, we know he had a heavy workload in Hobart, but so did Peter Siddle, so did Mitchell Starc, and we knew from the lesson from Adelaide to Perth, taking a group of guys all with high injury risks, you can't take everybody in together."

Howard also sounded a note of gratitude for the selectors' fortitude in ignoring public pressure not to rest Mitchell Starc from the Melbourne Test after his five-wicket haul to close out the first Test in Hobart. Mitchell Johnson and Jackson Bird were instead included as fresh pacemen and shared 10 wickets between them as Sri Lanka were routed on two and a half days.

"The fast bowling discussion was a very big one in the lead-up to this Test," Howard said. "There'll be differing views through that process but there's the opportunity to give the selectors a bit of a wrap regarding that. They held firm and I think many of you would say there's been some benefit to that process, so I think on reflection it's been a reasonably positive couple of days.

"Injuries are a difficult part of the world game at the moment that we've all got to try to be very good at, we want to be the best at it, and we've got a long way to go. It's one of those things where if we try to play with 11 [fit] players it makes a significant difference to the outcome of the game."

Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here

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Posted by Dr.Qwert on (December 31, 2012, 6:42 GMT)

Our tail typically has 3 of Johnson, Siddle, Starc and Pattinson, each very compitent batsmen, even Lyon isn't bad. When our absence of an alrounder came to attention we were carrying tail-enders like McGrath, Kasprowicz, Gillespie & Tait (occasionally McGill). If we feel we need the extra bowler, as we know bat so deep anyway we could afford to select 5 bowlers, or at the least a bowling all-rounder, like Hastings or Butterworth. There's only 2 all-rounders that could make the grade in the top 6 in tests for Australia, Watson and McDonald.

And people should really stop trying to pidgeon-hole Watson as a batsman. At his best he was getting consistent 70s for Australia and his average is less than 40. A top 5 batman for Australia in tests should be able to string together tons at his best and average mid40s and up. Don't let his exploits with the white ball fool you, test cricket is a different game!

Posted by zenboomerang on (December 31, 2012, 3:48 GMT)

The problem we have had since mucking around with Watto's batting position is that every time he gets injured we have a dilemma on how to replace him - batter or allrounder?... This also meant we had to shuffle the batting order which Clarke wasn't prepared to accept, so a batsman has been picked which has weakened our team & chances when one of our many seam bowlers breaks down...

Posted by zenboomerang on (December 31, 2012, 3:45 GMT)

@SirViv1973 :- "Since i've been watching cricket... Aus in the late 90's & 00's both teams only ever used 4 main bowlers"...

Seems you missed all the Oz matches... Steve Waugh averaged 8.6 overs in every innings he bowled in - 150 innings with 7805 balls bowled... Mark Waugh managed 128 innings bowling out of 128 matches played - 4853 balls bowled - 6.3 overs per innings... Andrew Symonds 41 innings bowling out of 26 matches - 8.5 overs per innings...

Posted by Busie1979 on (December 30, 2012, 23:49 GMT)

@SirViv1973 - yes Windies and Oz were dominant teams without an all-rounder, but both teams would have been better with a class all-rounder. I agree if you are flogging opposition in less than 3 days the all-rounder is of no benefit. However, the all-rounder becomes more important in the last day and a half, or if a bowler breaks down. One observation about the Windies team was they didn't have a class spinner. By your logic, because they didn't have one, this shows that the need for quality spinners is overrated - because they dominated with only need pace bowlers. Neither team had a quality left armer - therefore, by your logic, this shows that the need for quality left armers are overrated. In my opinion, an optimal team will have a varied attack of 5 quality bowlers, and genuine batting depth. In Watson's case, he is a good number 6 or 7 batsman and possibly the best 5th bowler going around. He needs to bowl more and bat lower so he is not tired when batting.

Posted by TommytuckerSaffa on (December 30, 2012, 14:53 GMT)

How about coming to the rightful conclusion that Watson is not the right type to play the longer form of the game and should stick to ODIs & T20 which he is exceptional at.

Posted by Micky.Panda on (December 30, 2012, 12:24 GMT)

When Maxwell doesn't work out, I think O'Keefe really should be the second spinner /batsman. When a 2nd spinner not required then probably Henriques in good batting form and can bowl a bit, if Watto is out. On a pitch not expected to be useful to Lyon, then O'Keefe could play and pick 4 fast bowlers Australia should be maintaining plenty of options to suit the venue. Pick batsman who play spin well for India. Is that Khawaja? I don't know. Horses for courses absolutely. Bird I think is the metronome bowler we needed with no McGrath or Clark. Hopefully get Pattinson back for the Ashes. Australia is really lacking one major thing. An attacking spinner for both India and the Ashes.

Posted by MinusZero on (December 30, 2012, 9:28 GMT)

The simplest solution is for Watson to retire from tests and concentrate on the short games where he is a far better player. He cant be selected for his batting, it isnt good enough.

Posted by SirViv1973 on (December 30, 2012, 2:24 GMT)

@Joel Chaplin, I think you are right to question whether Watson is good enough to play as just a batsman. The truth is until recently his record would not have been considered good enough for a top 6 batsman. Look at someone like Marcus North similar ave has scored 3 more 100s and played half as many games as SW. He was disposed of quite quickly when his form deserted him. However I think the situation has changed especially with the retirements of Ponting & Hussey. Clarke apart there are no other experienced batsman & there are also 2 other players in the current top 6 in Hughes & Cowan who ave less than SW. I just think the cupboard is bare right now & until Aus are able to produce another couple of good quality test batsman then the selectors will probably have to stick with him whether he offers a bowling option or not. I wonder if the selectors are ruing the decision to pension off Katich!

Posted by SirViv1973 on (December 30, 2012, 2:06 GMT)

@I-like-Cricket, the last test was over in less than 3 days. Sangers is out of the last test so SRL batting will be even weaker. Why on earth do you think you need 5 specialist bowlers to beat them? Since i've been watching cricket the 2 greatest teams were WIN in the 80s & Aus in the late 90's & 00's both teams only ever used 4 main bowlers. The truth is if you play 5 out & out bowlers 1 of them won't get to bowl very much. With Hussey about to retire you need to be looking at batting options, moving MJ up to 7 won't solve anythng.

Posted by Fleming_Mitch on (December 30, 2012, 1:50 GMT)

With Hussey's retirement everything changes. Watto can move to 6, Khawaja into 4 as a direct replacement for Hussey. Gives us a solid (yet young and unproven) batting line-up as Warner- Cowan- Hughes- Khawaja- Clarke- Watto- Wade-Johnson- Siddle- Patterson- Lyon with Cummins, Bird, Starc, Hilf, Harris, Beer as back-up bowlers (hoses for courses) If Watto doesn't bowl- Out he goes to captain NSW and in comes Coulter-Nile/ Christian/ Henriques/ Maxwell....

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Daniel Brettig Assistant editor Daniel Brettig had been a journalist for eight years when he joined ESPNcricinfo, but his fascination with cricket dates back to the early 1990s, when his dad helped him sneak into the family lounge room to watch the end of day-night World Series matches well past bedtime. Unapologetically passionate about indie music and the South Australian Redbacks, Daniel's chief cricketing achievement was to dismiss Wisden Almanack editor Lawrence Booth in the 2010 Ashes press match in Perth - a rare Australian victory that summer.
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