Watson weighs Dilshan against Sangakkara
Shane Watson has fired an early salvo ahead of the Test series against Sri Lanka in August by questioning Tillakaratne Dilshan's chances of forging a captaincy as successful as that of Kumar Sangakkara, his predecessor. The Australians will have a new captain themselves in the form of Michael Clarke, but his deputy Watson wondered aloud at Dilshan's chances of emulating the results and the universal respect won by Sangakkara during his time as leader.
"Kumar Sangakkara is as impressive a cricketer as there is in the world," Watson told ESPNcricinfo. "He always handles himself so unbelievably well and he's a brilliant cricketer also. So it's going to be very hard for someone like Dilshan to live up to exactly what Kumar is as a person and also how he's been in the captaincy, it's going to be a big challenge for him."
Sangakkara gave up the job following the World Cup in order to prolong his playing career, leaving the captaincy in the hands of Dilshan, an undoubted talent but also a somewhat flighty performer at times during his Test career. He is also handicapped by being, at 34, a year older than the man he is replacing.
Australia were fruitful in their efforts to unsettle Dilshan during the dual series away and at home in 2004, holding him to an average of 30.11, with one century, across five Tests. He was not selected in the Sri Lankan touring party that lost two matches in Australia in November 2007, instead leading the Sri Lanka A team to Zimbabwe. He has been appointed to lead the Sri Lankans on the tour of England that precedes the Australia series.
The Sri Lanka series, Watson acknowledged, will be the first serious test of the new leadership axis after an undemanding first assignment in Bangladesh, where the modest hosts were swept aside 3-0 in as many limited-overs matches. "On our side of things we've got a big challenge as well with a new leadership group and us trying to rebuild and create a really exciting era of Australian cricket within our team."
Doubts will surround the composition of the squad as it is the first since the loss of the Ashes at home, and there are plenty of sound reasons for ushering the further regeneration of a squad that stagnated in Ricky Ponting's final 18 months as captain. Watson, who had said the Ashes defeat would define the careers of several players "on the wrong side", still felt there would be a selection reckoning for a series punctuated by three innings victories for England.
"There's no doubt the Ashes was there to be a defining moment for people's careers in certain ways, and for some people it has been and others not so much," Watson said. "Now there's a new direction Australian cricket is heading in [and] it's going to be interesting to see what happens over the next year or so. I really feel it's going to be an interesting time to be able to start to generate a new era of Australian cricket, and I'm very thankful that I'm now part of the leadership group and want to be a part of creating something very special."
For so long a figure of sympathy and even occasional ridicule due to a seemingly endless string of injuries, Watson is now next in line for the captaincy behind Clarke, and is intent on sharing the hard lessons he learned while struggling over more than six years between his international debut and finally securing a Test spot of his own.
"Looking back on things, I am very lucky to have been through the experiences I've had that turned me into the person and the cricketer I am now," he said. "I suppose I've got a little bit to help younger guys coming through and improve them not only as people but also to help them make the most of playing the cricket they are as well."
Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo