Australia v SL, Champions Trophy, Group A, The Oval June 17, 2013

Watson's diminishing returns

With the retirement of Michael Hussey and injury to Michael Clarke, Australia desperately needed Shane Watson to perform at the Champions Trophy

In the 2009 Champions Trophy in South Africa, Shane Watson was the Man of the Match in Australia's victories in the semi-final and the final. He also had the best average and the most centuries (two) in the tournament. Four years on, Watson cut a much diminished figure throughout.

Just 34 runs. That's all one of the most valuable players for Australia managed in this edition of the tournament. With Michael Clarke convalescing, the burden was on Watson's shoulders to pilot Australia. It was an opportunity to correct the wrongs committed during the controversial Test series in India earlier this year where Watson was slapped with the one-match ban for not doing his homework.

Watson has not forgiven the Australian team management for rapping his knuckles, calling it the lowest point of his career. He made it clear that he was not interested in standing as Clarke's deputy in case the occasion arose during the Ashes as he wanted only focus on how best he could help the team with his contributions.

Mentally, Watson remains vulnerable. His failure has only exacerbated Australia's problems. Undoubtedly, being the senior-most player adds to the team's expectations. But you earn your badge by rising to the occasion.

Take Mahela Jayawardene. He had come in at a point when Xavier Doherty had tied down Sri Lanka in the middle overs. He had walked in midway into the Sri Lankan innings. Sri Lanka were 99 for 3 after 25 overs. Ten overs later they had managed just 43 more runs. But Jayawardene remained busy.

The pitch was two-paced, verging on the slower side. An elastic batsman, Jayawardene used his strengths to guide the ball into the various gaps without breaking sweat. The beauty about watching Jayawardene is he does not take the fielder on, but simultaneously he can beat any field.

Coming from round the wicket Mitchell Johnson pitched back of a length and short. Backward point and point were in position. Rooted to the crease, Jayawardene stretched laterally, opened the face of the bat, cut the ball to the left of backward point, lending just that much power required to beat Phil Hughes, who rushed in vain from third man.

Cuts, upper cuts, revere sweep, nudges, failed scoops. Jayawardene used all those weapons to make the bowler's job that much more difficult. He played the situation, using his head to put Sri Lanka in a winning position.

In contrast, Watson lost his head while attempting a stroke which has proved to be dangerous. He had started off with a fluent boundary in the first over but having just faced one ball from Nuwan Kulasekara, Watson cut; so close to his body he virtually cut the stumps. He was the most crucial batsman in the chase. Someone who could overpower their bowling. In the end Watson sat in the changing rooms head in hands, as Sri Lanka kept their nerve in a tantalising victory.

The period between 2009 and 2011 were Watson's best years. He worked hard, performed consistently and deserved the status of the most valuable player. He was in a happy state of mind. He was especially formidable in the one-day arena. You could look up to Watson and, up to a point, he would deliver. Coincidentally, it was the period when Ricky Ponting was Australia's captain. Ponting had a lot of respect for Watson and backed him in every possible situation. Watson respected Ponting for having the belief in him and standing by him.

Today Watson is isolated with Michael Clarke at the helm. He was Clarke's deputy in India, but as soon as he reached India, he made it clear he had no intention to step into the leadership duties. Watson is happy to continue making the contributions, but wants to do it on his own terms. Mickey Arthur has admitted his dynamic within the team remains a work in progress

Failing to adapt to the situation has been the major stumbling block. Disappointingly Watson has remained an impact player. Not the batsman who has the patience to construct an innings consistently. His form has declined from 2012 where onwards he has averaged 32.05. In Twenty20 cricket, such as the IPL, Watson has expressed himself with much more freedom. He has remained the most dependable player for Rajasthan Royals since 2008. He has remained flexible in the roles he has been asked to perform in the IPL.

Australia need an assertive Watson now more than ever. Of course, the Australia team management needs to make some allowance. Clarke needs to relay the message to Watson that he remains his best man, and perhaps commit the sort of time to the allrounder that Ponting once did. For his part Watson has to realise that he cannot rely on a captain cajoling him all the time. He has the ability to stand up on his own two feet and be heard, even if recent evidence of such is growing scarce.

Nagraj Gollapudi is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Adeel on June 19, 2013, 6:07 GMT

    M.Clarke is the most insecure Captain and Middle order Aussie batsmen I have ever seen. In his regime as Captain leave great not even a single good player has emerged or make a permanent memeebr of OZ team. He has ensure that Hussey is out of the way and played with Watson. Now there is no one to replace him in middle order!!! As far as he is a great spin batsmen I doubt it now as Jadeja got him out 5/6 times in three test he plays againt India.

  • Dummy4 on June 18, 2013, 20:38 GMT

    @Alex Prabaharan, that is not really true that the Aussies just continued winning everything if a critical player went down with injury. Just look at the impact Mcgraths absence had in the 2005 Ashes series. Australia was actually quite lucky really in that Ponting, Gilly, Warne, McGrath and Steve Waugh very rarely missed games of cricket and if they did there was still plenty of other classy and experienced performers in the team.

  • Dummy4 on June 18, 2013, 13:47 GMT

    What felt like teething issues seem more like festering ones now and the Australian Cricket Board will need to take some bold steps to restore the Aussies to their former glory. An Aussie team has always had grit and courage. This was personified through its captains and key players through the last few decades, be it Border, Boon, Lillee, Gilchrist, Ponting, McGrath or Warne. It seems that the fight has gone out of their system of late and there seems a sudden dearth of talent in their ranks. Hope that there is silver lining to this cloud hanging around Aussie cricket, of which players like Hughes, Maxwell, etc are only a personification. They need a soul searching catharsis not summary executions.

  • Android on June 18, 2013, 12:50 GMT

    Sure,the times have changed.From the era when Ricky wud never talk abt d injured player (and win it as convincingly with d available players) to Aus missing their star batsman in a major tournament,times have changed.In that time the mighty has fallen.

  • Albie on June 18, 2013, 11:46 GMT

    At some point now really soon, Australia is going to hit rock bottom. Then and only then will the impetus for re-building a great team emerge - a work ethic, ability to graft an innings, an understanding that the world doesn't owe you an innings. I am looking forward to it.

  • Kedar on June 18, 2013, 11:35 GMT

    Watson simply doesn't look comfortable in the current Australian team. He looked more relaxed when he was with the Royals in IPL. He was thoroughly involved and enjoyed all the games even when he didn't perform. Remember the match against MI when he almost ran towards Pollard, Dravid had to calm him down. At the same time its not that he is out of form and needs one good innings to come back into his own. Something's not right between him and Clarke which was evident during India series and the earlier they sort it out between themselves, the better it is for the team especially with 10 Ashes test matches lined up. The last thing you would want is Australia loose without putting up any fight. Looking at yesterday's match it was only the last wicket partnership which showed glimpses of a real Australian team. They somehow need to get back to that mould and start playing "together". I can't remember the last time when an Australian batsman got out like George Bailey did yesterday.

  • Dummy4 on June 18, 2013, 11:26 GMT

    I remember his innings at Chennai in RR's match against CSK. It was a really fantastic innings. Rahul Dravid and Watto have a great rapport. It is sad to see such a great player looking demoralized. One hopes he will fall into the groove again and become the mainstay of Australia.

  • avinash on June 18, 2013, 11:01 GMT

    Drop watson immediately and draft bailey into ashes squad he seems no longer focused at all in international cricket better drop him now, he is same as yuvraj singh for india in tests.

  • Dummy4 on June 18, 2013, 11:00 GMT

    @Mindmaker to strengthen your point I remembered it appeared to me as if the Australian team being dominant as they were allowed to have a beer here and here,but thing has changed under Clarke,it may appear to be the coach,however Clarke has a lot to do with the change of culture,remember Simmons, he had enough to do ending his career although Simmons should have adjusted to the change in culture,it's appears Watson is having difficulty coming to grips with it...

  • ajay on June 18, 2013, 10:50 GMT

    Watson has not been performing and he should be thrown out of the team as australia can not afford more than 2 allrounders in side...moreover phil hughes with no technique cannt be an international player...mitch marsh again is a useless player like steve smith..Aussies need to have specialist batsman..but clarke's insecurity will prevent any selection of middle order specialist batsman...