A true IPL success story
"Don't bowl there to Shane Watson #wt20" said an excitable @cricketaus on twitter.
The "there" was a short slow leg spinner outside legstump. You probably shouldn't bowl there to any batsman in the world, regardless of skill level or venue. At the moment, you could pretty much bowl anywhere to Shane Watson and he'd find a way to hit it for six.
The first ball of Australia's tournament was a wicket to Watson. In that game he was man of the match. Against West Indies he was man of the match. And today he was man of the match. In the tournament Watson has eight wickets, 164 runs, and three cheques. He also caught Chris Gayle, eventually. We still have no idea how good Australia are, because no team has come close to getting past Watson.
Australia's middle order could be their Achilles heel but unless Watson gets dismissed early we'll never see them. Australia can't rotate the strike against the spinners: not a problem if Watson just hits them for six. Australia have two young and inexperienced seamers in their line up: but Watson is protecting them as best he can with his trusty medium pace.
Australia are three from three because of Watson. Perhaps the hit out in the UAE and their training camp in Darwin helped refine their game. They may have sorted their fear of spinners. The pitches being faster than expected is going to be to their advantage. And George Bailey may be exactly what this team needed. But in this tournament all we've really seen is Watson.
Watson hasn't looked this invincible since he took Rajasthan to a very unexpected title as a lowly paid player in the first IPL season. At $125,000 he was paid $75,000 less than Justin Langer by the same team and wasn't even sold in the first round of the auctions.
At that point in his career Watson gave more press conferences about injuries that he took wickets or runs. He was brought back into the Australian side with phenomenal speed every time he was fit, and yet his performances never really justified it. He was the favourite whipping boy of the fans, very much the Australian Rohit Sharma. His IPL contract was more because of a strong 2007 World Cup and through his former Australian and Hampshire teammate Shane Warne. He was man of the tournament, broke back into the Australian line up, and has become the Shane Watson of current day.
The IPL gets much flak, but Shane Watson is one of its true success stories. It was perhaps not the success story that India was looking for. All that time in the IPL has certainly given Watson plenty of practice of hitting rubbish bowling far into the subcontinent stands as dancing girls and fireworks go off.
There was plenty of rubbish bowling. But should Watson, and Warner, get some of the credit for that? Both are the sort of batsmen that bowlers properly fear. They are both strength players who don't just dispatch bad balls, they murder them. A bowler knows a slight mistake in length to Watson, or line to Warner, will disappear. That is pressure. Against England a lesser Indian attack was unplayable, Watson and Warner turned them into mush. They were decisive, sure and brutal. They should get as much credit for how they batted as India get criticism.
South Africa had muddled their way to 133, Pakistan had stumbled to 136 and India underachieved to 140. Watson punched Australia to 140 in less than 15 overs. Every shot he played was 100% sure of what he wanted to do with it. He made a decision, and he put the ball there.
In other forms of cricket, Watson can cause problems for Australia by not making the big hundred that completely changes the game. And his body never really looks like holding up for too long a spell. In this format of the game his making a sixty is a big innings, and four, usually non-consecutive, overs seems to be ok with him. He's a perfect killing machine for T20 cricket, and in a format where one man can make a huge difference, Watson is taking Australia from a ranking below Ireland to a legitimate threat for the title.
The Australians call Glenn Maxwell "The Big Show" but right now Shane Watson is the entire show.