Australia v Pakistan, World T20 2016, Group 2, Mohali March 24, 2016

'Adaptable' Watson might not open, says Smith


At around 3.15pm, with Australia's pre-match press conference over, Shane Watson called his team-mates into a huddle. Not the kind they have with their arms around each other just before going out to field. A more relaxed one, just to have a relaxed conversation with mates. Steven Smith and Darren Lehmann already knew. Perhaps, a few of the players close to him knew, too. Now, he told the rest that this World T20 was going to be his last international tournament for Australia, that he was retiring from all international and first-class cricket. Smith spoke after that. Then, Lehmann did. And then, strength and conditioning coach Damian Mednis seemed to suggest, "Let's not get too soppy. Watto's still around. Let's go train."

There were handshakes after that. There were pats on the back. Glenn Maxwell put his arm around Watson, patted him on his head and then let him go. They know there is not much of Watson left. Two games if they don't play well. Three or four if they hit their stride. An absolute fairytale ending would be to win all four matches. For that, they will rely on the best of Watson. Not just on the field, but also tactically, because he has the most experience of both the PSL and IPL. Their next two opponents are Pakistan and India.

"We had a team meeting yesterday," Steven Smith said. "He had a fair bit of intel, insights about some of their players. It was nice to hear his thoughts. We certainly listened, and they are going to be a tough opponent, we have to be at our best if we have to beat them tomorrow."

Watson as a player holds a big key, with his cutters on the slow pitches, and his batting. He has the experience of batting both in the top and middle orders in the IPL. So far, Australia have used him at the top, presumably to get a left-right combination going with Usman Khawaja, who simply can't be ignored. That has pushed David Warner down to the middle order. The experiment hasn't really worked, with Warner scoring 6 off 11 and 17 off 9 in the two matches. It is not set in stone now that Watson opens and Warner bats in the middle.

"It's not too late," Smith said. "I think it could change. I think it depends on the kind of wickets, what we think at the time is going to be best against certain attacks and it might change in this game, it might change against India as well, so guys are pretty flexible. Everyone, Davey has played quite well in the middle, but we know how destructive he is at the top as well. You've got Aaron Finch as well who is sitting in the wings and he's very destructive at the top.

"Having said that, the two starts we've had have been good. Hasn't been in the first game, it wasn't the openers' fault that we lost that match. It was our middle order. And our middle order again didn't do the job to polish off the performance the other night. We've got a few options, it's just about summing up what we think is best for that certain day, those conditions and against that opposition."

Smith said it helps that Watson is adaptable. "I think Watto can [adapt], I think he's got a bit of extra power," Smith said. "I've seen him bat in one-day cricket at No. 5 and No. 6, he's batted in the middle order in IPL over here as well, and he's done quite well. He certainly can. Usman, I think, is suited to the top of the order. He plays just good cricket shots and scores at a pretty good rate without taking many risks.

"It depends what we want on that given day. If we want a bit of extra power and get off to an absolute flyer, you've got options of Finch and Warner and Watson, and if you want just good cricket strokeplay and then leave it for the middle overs and the back end, I think Usman is suited to bat for a longer period."

Australia certainly have the options with the bat, but they haven't yet been able to nail them. It has left them needing practically four wins out of four if they are to win a maiden World T20. How they bat against spin and slow bowling will determine how they go. Watson has won 50-over World Cups, he has been the Man of the Match in a Champions Trophy final win, he has been part of dominating Test sides, but to get this final missing piece before he goes, he will have a big contribution to make with bat, ball and tactics on these slow pitches.

Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Nasr Bhatti on March 25, 2016, 8:28 GMT

    I don't think smith send 2 left-hand front of 2 left-hand if he do this a bigger failure

  • Android on March 25, 2016, 6:49 GMT

    Aus should have selected Boyce , lyon that was a tactical mistake ..playing 11 to be - warner, khawaja, Smith, maxwell, Watson, Marsh, faulkner, nevill, Coulter nile, zampa, Hazelwood....though Aus may have slight edge over pak ..will lose surely against Team India ..

  • rob on March 25, 2016, 4:58 GMT

    Yes, I hope Watto fires up for a big finish. We need him and as many mates as possible firing on all cylinders if we are going to win this thing. Isn't it about time for a Maxwell special? ... @Jayzuz: Exactly. It may eventually turn out to be true, that's always a possibility, but declaring the case closed after just 2 games is jumping the gun to the max. I feel that Warner is a good enough player to bat anywhere in the top 6 in l/o cricket so we could see him pummel some team yet. Also, when Watto leaves, that's a spot for Finch. We have to put up with the 'too many openers' dilemma for another 2-4 games.

  •   Mark Cooray on March 25, 2016, 4:37 GMT

    In my opinion Bring Aron Finch into the team before it is too late and open the inning with David Warner.Smith is not suit for Captain this format so replace him or Marsh.Best of luck for both teams from SL.

  • venkataramana rao on March 25, 2016, 1:11 GMT

    Aus shd open with Finch and Warner with Khwaja 1 drop , Smith 2 drop, Maxwell, Watson, Mitch Marsh in the middle, Nevill -keeper, Hazelwood, Zampa and Hastings or Counter Nile taking care of the bowling. All 4 are in good form. Ashton Agar, Faulkner and Andrew Tye sit out... This will make Auss a real well balanced side with top 4 taking care of the batting in all situation. middle order giving the fire power. Good incisive bowlers in Hazelwood, Zampa and Counter Nile.... Aus has been getting the team selection wrong more than anything else. if they do this they will be hard to beat.....

  • David on March 24, 2016, 23:41 GMT

    The experiment with Warner down the order hasn't worked? They have played two games! Yes, two! You can't draw any conclusions from such a tiny sample.

  • Yogesh on March 24, 2016, 21:21 GMT

    This so-called adaptation is going to cost the Ozs a place in the semis. Smith is frankly not the best captain they have in T20: that would be George Bailey, who's not even in the team. Watto is great as an opener (check out his record opening for RR in the IPL). And their best spinner, the world class offie Lyon, is not even selected in this team. What a joke! Still, as an Indian fan, I am not complaining. (We have our own head scratching selections: why Dhawan and not Rahane, a MUCH better player, as opener? Why Yuvi, clearly out of his depth and past it?).

  • Ronald on March 24, 2016, 20:59 GMT

    Finch for either Warner, Smith or Maxwell. None of the latter three have performed up to expectations in recent limited over games & are only being selected on reputation.

  • Humayoon on March 24, 2016, 17:42 GMT

    Finch for Marsh. Just one change...please

  • K_Kumar on March 24, 2016, 17:31 GMT

    Excited about Khawaja vs Aamir showdown. Might just a lesson for other teams on how to open against swiftly left seamers.

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