Australia v Pakistan, 1st Test, Melbourne, 4th day December 29, 2009

The rewards of resilience

Shane Watson has fought many struggles and his maiden century at the MCG will bring him enormous relief

Shane Watson has spent most of the noughties straining under great expectations and a fragile body that couldn't shoulder the load. On the second-last day of Test cricket in the decade, Watson was finally unburdened and freed himself of all the disappointments and heartache that the past few years have brought him. He can now move on to greater things.

As Watson raised his bat to celebrate his maiden Test century, he looked relieved more than excited. In part that was because he'd just been dropped at point on 99 and scrambled a quick single to reach the milestone, enough to send any batsman's heart racing; but Watson's build-up to this moment spanned eight years, not just a few nervous deliveries.

Ever since he first stepped out for his national team in March 2002, Watson has been tipped as the next big thing and the expectations only grew when Andrew Flintoff's 2005 Ashes showed Australia the value of an allrounder. For most of his career, Watson has looked like an action figurine and been just as inflexible and liable to snap. But now that his body is holding together, the full extent of his talent is on display.

Chris Gayle said this month that Watson was soft. You can't overcome the hurdles Watson has if you're soft. His list of injuries includes problems with his back, shoulder, hamstring and calf, and they have kept him out of major moments like Australia's triumphant 2003 World Cup campaign and the 2006-07 Ashes whitewash.

And yet, after every strain, tear or break, he has remained upbeat about his future, confident he would return. If he lost his right arm in a freak accident you'd half expect him to start bowling with his left and declare he'd be back in the team within a year.

It's a resilience that makes him perfect for Test cricket. Following scores of 96, 89 and 93 this summer, his persistence was rewarded when he became the first Australian to reach triple-figures in a Test this season, after the team had managed 20 half-centuries. Having starred with twin hundreds in the Champions Trophy and firmly established himself as a one-day and Test opener, it capped off a fabulous period.

"The last six months have been for me my defining moment," Watson said. "The last six months have been something I've always dreamt of, being able to string so much cricket together throughout the Ashes, then the one-dayers and going on to the Champions Trophy and then on to India as well. For me leading up to the summer, that was a big accomplishment for me."

Despite the dropped chance on 99, he thoroughly deserved his century. Since Watson came into the Test line-up as an opener during the Ashes tour, he has been comfortably Australia's best batsman. He has scored 716 runs at 65.09, faced more balls than any of his team-mates and has more half-centuries to his name than any of his team-mates.

And all this from a makeshift opener. The selectors were criticised for thrusting Watson, a middle-order player at first-class level, into the opening position when they dropped Phillip Hughes before the Edgbaston Test. They've been proven correct. Had Hughes returned to the team at the MCG in place of an injured Ricky Ponting, Watson might not have even opened.

His technique is sound, he drives and pulls with force and discretion, and there's a hint of David Boon in the way he shuffles the bat in his hands at the bowler's release and then moves his body in behind the ball. A combination of 93 and 120 not out in his first Boxing Day Test, after his previous successes, means he must stay at the top of the order permanently.

The past decade has been full of hiccups, hurdles and hospital visits but Watson's resilience got him through. Now it's time for the rewards.

Brydon Coverdale is a staff writer at Cricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Joe on December 30, 2009, 13:06 GMT

    Firstly, Shane batted well no question. However I personally cannot stand him and want him to fail everytime he goes out there, this is not through jealousy it is simply due to his character. He always gets involved in confrontation with various players real intense sledging, I dont mind this and i myself enjoy it when playing it spurs me on. What i dislike is how it is never him and he is never involved the australian commentators never realise that these confrontations he has every game no matter who against are his doing. He and mitchell johnson regularly wind the opposition up and then get away with it! Why? They should be punished for continuous breach of the spirit of cricket. If it happened on occasions fair enough but every day, every innings of every game! what are the commentators and match referees watching to not realise!

  • Jason on December 30, 2009, 0:41 GMT

    It's great to see someone with the talent of Watson making mincemeat of the best bowlers Pakistan have. His superiority over the WI and Pakistani bowling attacks this summer has been a joy to watch. It's sad that there are still people out there who are so petty and ignorant that they think he doesn't deserve to be there. Or is it just jealousy?? Comments by the undignified Chris Gayle aside, Watto is a tough cricketer who'll be around smashing the world's best bowlers for many many years to come.

  • param on December 29, 2009, 23:01 GMT

    lets c.....he got dropped on 43 in 1sdt innings which gave him da confidence...same with sehwag who was dropped on 0 and made 131 in the IND SL test. in 2nd innings he got dropped on 99, but he did deserve a century there, no doubt . against WI, he was dropped on 7 and made 93 . all batsmen , especially M hussey put up a string of big scores due to dropped chances at the start of their careers.Just goes on to show how imp it is to be a safe fielding side. I have no doubt that Watto will become a good player now provided he has luck going his way and also due to his increased confidence, his technique is more brilliant than ever . However, his true test will be in ENg vs ENg in Tests and in India vs India in Tests. however, best of luck to him on his future.

  • Samir on December 29, 2009, 23:00 GMT

    Would wait against stronger opposition like India and South Africa. He did fail against England.

  • Bob on December 29, 2009, 21:16 GMT

    In the past I haven't been a Watson supporter because I believed that he was overrated, but since he has been moved to opener I have to stand corrected as he has proven to me as a spectator that he has come of age and does belong in the Australian team. His cover drives and straight drives are a pleasure to watch and with those strokes is as good as any of the greats. Shane I am glad that you proved me wrong. Just be yourself and not what others want you to be.

  • Ken on December 29, 2009, 19:52 GMT

    I am sick of people sayging "if Pakistan only held on to their catches". Last I looked, fielding is part of the game of cricket, so if they have problem with their catching, it's the same as they having problems in the batting and bowling. No one ever says that "if a team haven't nicked so many balls to the slips", they would have won. Watson is a good player, his scores prove that, yes luck has a bit to do with it but which good player would dare say luck never has anything to do with their form.

  • Samrat on December 29, 2009, 19:39 GMT

    I recall Hayden and Ponting mouthing off few years ago that Subcontinental players are selfish and slow down for personal milestone. Well, the times must have changed, since that phenomenon is known as resilience now...

  • giovaughn on December 29, 2009, 18:57 GMT

    this actually is nothing new to me. an average batsman or just above it has the world singing his praises as he is good at riding his luck & grabs the oppurtunity when given a chance. Anyone remember Ravi Bopara? he made 3 centuries on the trot against a weakened West Indies attack & every1 was saying how good he is. no one looked at the fact that he had repeatedly been dropped or given not out incorrectly in all 3 innings. just look at how well he did in the ashes? he coundnt even make 40 & ended up being dropped for the tour of South Africa. both Watson & Bopara are not 'proactivists' they are oppurtunists. they perform when they are given the chance to perform & they are apparently very good at it. when softy watson faces an agressive side that will get at him hard & hold their chances he will be found out just like Bopara & the selectors will have to go beg phil hughes for his forgivness no hard feelings Wato & best of luck. your going to need it

  • Sakthivel on December 29, 2009, 18:13 GMT

    Mr J.C.Narasimhan, please read the article thoroughly. Read the sentence "Despite the dropped chance on 99, he thoroughly deserved his century".... People of such calibre are rare to find. Hats off to Shane Watson!

  • Hugo on December 29, 2009, 17:50 GMT

    One last point: SR Watson faced 220 balls, the other batsmen collectively faced 226. Give the man his due!!

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