Relaxed Watson hopes to make the most of 'last few games'
Chandigarh is not an easy place to remember; it is nigh impossible to tell one sector of its grid-based layout from another. Shane Watson can. He has vivid memories of being here to play cricket in Mohali. He had scored a high-quality Test century here, but ended up losing that match, one of the greatest Tests played in India. More vividly, though, he remembers being sent back home midway during Australia's next tour of India. Now he and his team fight to make sure his international career doesn't end in Mohali. They want it to go to Mumbai, and then Kolkata.
"It's a good thing we're not staying in the JW Marriott because I've got a bad memory of one of those rooms in particular there so that's given me some nice memories coming back to Mohali," Watson said, looking back at the disastrous tour of India four years ago. "But yeah that wasn't really one of my high points, being suspended from a Test match for not doing my homework that I didn't realise I had to do."
In his press conference before the start of Australia's knockouts - they meet Indian in a virtual quarter-final - Watson sounded a lot more relaxed than what most of the players with their modern media training do. He joked about the homeworkgate, about the time they sledged Virat Kohli at MCG, but he himself dropped Kohli two balls later, about how perhaps Ajinkya Rahane can replace Kohli when asked third time if he felt his IPL team-mate Rahane merited a place in the Indian XI. It could perhaps be down to the relief that getting such a big announcement out of the way brings.
"No, not really [if anything had changed since the announcement]," Watson said. "Apart from just really making the most of these last few games that I've got. After I announced my retirement, over the last day it's been reminiscing a bit more. It's the first time I really sat back and really looked at my career and the different highlights.
"Even from a young age, the age of 20, I've got so many incredible memories. It really is the first time in my whole career that I've had the chance to just spend some time thinking about how incredibly lucky and fortunate I've been and the amazing things I've been fortunate enough to be able to experience throughout my career. That's more the last day I've been experiencing. Just making the most of playing these last few games, because I know how much of a privilege it's been to be able to play for my country, and I'm going to make the most of these last few games."
It could be the last few or the last. The familiar foes, India, will start as favourites despite three cagey performances: they have got the bowlers to exploit the slow pitch in Mohali, and they also have the recent upper hand through beating Australia 3-0 in the T20Is in Australia earlier this year. Watson, though, said the Australian T20 side has improved a lot since then.
"We've got a very different team to those games we played," Watson said. "We went through quite a few players throughout those three games. Now we've been a bit more settled as a unit. That's a great starting point for us compared to India, who have been just about the same team all the way through so they certainly know their roles very well within the batting unit and the bowling unit. For us to be able to click [against Pakistan] as a batting and bowling unit that's a great thing and the most important thing going into a knockout game so I've got no doubt India are going to be very wary of what we do."
Watson is aware of India's strength at home, though, and hoped that Australia would prevail in the mental contest that all knockout matches are. "In big games it really comes down to your mental approach more than anything else," he said. "Your skills don't change, and the biggest challenge mentally is to be able to try and hold your nerve when the pressure comes on, which is certainly going to happen in a knockout game.
"India has quite a lot of expectations, quite a few people who follow the game here compared to back home in Australia so there's a little bit more expectation on the Indian team compared to the Australian team, but both teams want to win. It's such a big tournament for everyone, for all of the international sides, especially a knockout game. It really just comes down to how you hold your nerve, and the good thing is, recently in the one-day World Cup we certainly did that at home. We also know that India did it very well at home in 2011 as well, and they've got quite a few of the same players so it's going to be a great game."
For Australia, Watson's flexibility has been a big asset. They had tried David Warner in the middle order, but it is Watson, with his experience of batting in the middle order in the IPL, who has given them what they might feel is the ideal batting order. Against Pakistan, after two games of Warner in the middle, Watson batted at No. 6, and scored 44 not out off 21 to provide their innings the impetus. Asked if that was the way to go for Australia, Watson said: "Our batting clicked, that's for sure. In the end I know with the experience that I've had batting in a lot of different spots throughout my career, I am the most versatile batsmen in our line-up, to be able to move up and down the order.
"So whatever was required for the selectors and the captain to feel that they wanted certain guys in certain positions, it certainly worked today there is no doubt about that. Look, in the end, I'm very happy to just be playing. I have been very fortunate to be able to play for my country for a number of years."
Three more nights, Watson might want.
Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo