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January 17, 2010
Reverse swing. The bane of Australia's existence on the 2005 Ashes tour. The skill that Troy Cooley was hired to teach Ricky Ponting's men but was conspicuously absent on this year's return trip to England. Who'd have thought that the team's best exponent of the art would turn out to be their opening batsman?
Shane Watson considers himself a batting allrounder but his bowling has become an increasingly useful weapon for Ponting over the past six months, not least because he can get the old ball - and even the not-so-old ball - to move in the air. It's a talent he has demonstrated throughout this summer and it continued in Pakistan's second innings in Hobart, where he trapped Mohammad Yousuf and Umar Akmal lbw with a ball barely 20 overs old that tailed in to them.
Watson had no doubt it was reverse rather than regulation swing. The Australians had established earlier in the match that the Hobart conditions would suit the style, and Watson was tipped to benefit.
"I could tell when we took the second new ball in the first innings that the ball got chopped up a lot on both sides so I knew the ball could go reverse very quickly in the second innings," Watson said. "I was lucky enough that it did. As soon as I started bowling it just about started going. That's one thing that I've learnt with my tour to India, where the Indians bowled beautifully well and were able to get the ball to go reverse very quickly.
"It does make it such a big challenge as a batsman with a newer ball going through a bit more and it's actually reversing. We've been lucky throughout the summer, the conditions have helped us. We've also worked very hard on being able to maintain the ball so we can continue to keep it in the condition to be able to make the most of it. I'm lucky the way I bowl is a bit more conducive to reverse swing as well, the way I release it."
The breakthroughs were vital for Australia, as Yousuf and Akmal are Pakistan's two most dangerous batsmen. It continued a happy wicket-taking trend for Watson this summer, when he has collected 13 victims in addition to being Australia's most consistent batsman with 609 runs. He was also able to put together nine consecutive overs, a good sign given his history of injuries.
"I think I'm bowling the best I ever have, there's no doubt about that, because I've been able to string so many games together," Watson said. "When you do that you're able to continue to work on little things and continue to improve. There's no doubt my bowling is in a really good place."
Watson's strikes meant Pakistan closed the fourth day with only six wickets in hand and he believes two more breakthroughs will place the visitors in an extremely vulnerable position. That is contingent on the weather improving after play ended an hour prior to the scheduled stumps due to rain, with further showers forecast on the final day.
"The ball is in such a good condition that as long as the rain stays away for a little bit, I'm sure if we get a couple of breakthroughs early that it's going to be very difficult to bat for the tailenders with the ball going the way it is," Watson said. "Also there's a bit of turn there for Haury, there's quite a bit of rough there for him as well."
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