Watson skips into T20 retirement
Shane Watson and Peter Nevill ran giggling from the ground, high fiving in self-congratulation, and looking like two boys who had just tricked the teacher into letting them out early. Nevill had just put the last ball of the innings into the crowd, but it was Shane Watson who was practically skipping; such was his excitement that Australia now had enough.
This was not the skip of a man about to retire. This was not even a man who skipped.
Watson was a man who smashed or trudged. Yet, that was not how he went about this innings.
In a team of Warner, Maxwell, Finch and Faulkner, suddenly it was Watson who looked like the proper batsman, the man who started as the heaving, thumping muscle was now the wise head to the new group.
His innings wasn't bad, but he didn't have the impact he did against Pakistan. It was Nevill who provided the last minute fireworks, Watson's last boundary was an edge through a vacant third man.
It was not how you remember Watson at his best. At Test level you often remember him not at his best, but in limited-overs cricket you remember him as an occasional beast. Whether it was the World Cup of 2007 where he suddenly had the game to fill those shoulders; the IPL that followed where lifted Rajasthan to the championship; or the 2012 World T20 where he was the only Australian player to turn up, and yet they still made the semis.
Then there was Watson the bowler: parsimonious, canny and often shocked that anyone could take a run off him. And then came his celebrations.
"Come on" screams Watson. The Watson scream: we have all seen it. His neck flaring. His mouth wide open. His hands clenched. As he poses in a victory squat.
That's what is happening moments after he has slipped one through the lost charge of Rohit Sharma. Watson hits the stumps, we have seen it so many times before. Not hitting them hard, but hitting them more than most. And there are only three runs from his first over. Maybe he wasn't as fast as his youth, maybe his body never let him bowl enough, but Watson only leaked runs over his broken dead body.
Next over Watson was bouncing Raina. His bouncer always hinted at the pace of his youth, but without the actual speed. It was never as funny as a Steve Waugh or Craig McMillan bouncer, but it was, let's face it, only good as a surprise ball.
This one is slow, very slow, it loops up outside leg stump and Raina waves at it, it takes the top edge, and were it a faster ball, on a pacier pitch, it would have flown away. Instead it gently plops down into Nevill's gloves. Watson is ecstatic, he is bowling Australia to the semi-final, he is bowling himself to one more chance at glory.
While resting his 2-0-8-2 body in the field, Watson finds himself at cover. Faulkner is bowling to Yuvraj and he changes the pace. Yuvraj, in many ways India's Watson, knocks it up in the air with a lack of timing. There are many Australian fielders better equipped to take this catch running back, but none of them are anywhere near it. Instead Watson is there. He's running back and on an angle, he tumbles towards it, and he comes up with the ball. His team mob him, he looks shocked at pulling this catch off.
This brings Dhoni in with Kohli. Watson is these two men away from getting one more game. They have not yet started their victory push, and Watson is bowling well, but he gets one slower ball just a bit wrong, it sticks in the slow pitch. Maybe another batsman mishits it, or turns it for one, Dhoni pulls it for four.
Watson stays on for his last over. Kohli and Dhoni are now going for it. Dhoni tries to charge him, but Watson changes his length and yorks him. A bad ball from Watson gets hit only for one. Watson bounces Kohli who hooks for one and barely celebrates his 50. A great yorker from Watson gets Dhoni only a single. An even better yorker to Kohli takes him on the pad, and a strangled fruitless appeal follows as they take a leg bye. It's the last ball, and Watson bowls a quicker back of a length ball, Dhoni tries a helicopter slap over cover, he edges it. Fine.
Watson bends over at the waist. He doesn't get up. He doesn't get up as the ball beat third man, as the umpire signalled four, or as the teams swapped over for the end of the over. It was only when his team mates come over to pick him up that he moved at all.
Watson slowly moves to short fine leg and put his cap on with frustration. He kicks at the turf several times as Kohli's first shot of the 18th over was a four. He kicks the turf again after Kohli's next ball also goes for four. And then he shakes his head when Kohli plays an on-the-up off drive for six the ball after.
Watson made 18 off 16, took two wickets, took the catch for the third, bowled eight dot balls, counselled the quick bowlers, and beat the bat of Virat Kohli when Kohli was in Mechagodzilla mode. And, it still wasn't enough.
Australian fans are used to seeing Shane Watson being disappointed. It has been a constant cricket meme over the last few years. His Test career ended with that Shane Watson trudge after another lbw went against him. It was a sad moment, but he had not done himself any favours.
This time was not the same. This time he had to watch the end of his career come at the hands of someone else's perfection. Something he never quite attained himself. Watson has won World Cups, Ashes, been in the No. 1 side on earth, and yet there was always a feeling that he could have been more.
After the game Watson was out on the ground, playing with his kids, chasing his son on the outfield, posing for pics with his daughter. Then Virat Kohli came by, they shook hands briefly.
At that moment, all the disappointments, all the frustration, all the what ifs, didn't matter. Watson had given it his all, but the man on the other end of the handshake was just better. It was time to leave the ground, but Watson didn't look sad, he looked happy. It wasn't a Watson slow walk when he left. He still had a bit of a skip in his step.
Jarrod Kimber is a writer for ESPNcricinfo. @ajarrodkimber