ICC Cricket World Cup 2011 / News
Australia v Zimbabwe, World Cup 2011, Ahmedabad
Watson looking forward to challenge of opening
February 19, 2011
When he wasn't hobbling around with a nagging calf strain, Shane Watson spent much of the 2007 World Cup padded up, waiting, and watching Matthew Hayden crush opponents with help from his opening partner Adam Gilchrist. Hayden dominated that tournament more than any other batsman, with three centuries against top teams, and it's a role Watson wants to play this time around.
So dominant were Hayden, Gilchrist and the rest of the top order that Watson, who was batting at No. 7 during that period, had to face only 85 balls through the entire seven-week event. Fast forward four years and Watson is an established, in-form opener, and Australia will be desperate for him to have a massive series, with less depth and experience in the middle order than in years gone by.
"It's a different challenge compared to batting at No. 7 in the team that we had," Watson said. "It's a much bigger responsibility opening the batting and trying to lay a great platform for the team like Matt Hayden and Adam Gilchrist did so beautifully throughout their careers. I know it's a big responsibility and I'm really looking forward to it.
"It's a great challenge over here and I've been lucky enough to spend quite a bit of time here over the past two years to get used to the conditions. They're big shoes to fill because [Hayden and Gilchrist] have performed unbelievably well throughout their careers, especially in World Cups."
Watson enters the 2011 tournament with some formidable figures behind him. He's scored 832 one-day runs in the past year, comfortably Australia's best, and earlier this month he won his second consecutive Allan Border Medal. He didn't just win it, he annihilated all his colleagues by earning 295 votes, a full hundred in front of the second-placed Michael Hussey.
It's a form-line that will leave opponents scratching their heads as to how to control him. The first team that has to find the solution is Zimbabwe, whose batting coach Grant Flower has been searching for some inside tips from his brother Andy, who as coach of England recently saw Watson plunder 161 at the MCG, after he was one of the few Australians who also had a solid Ashes series.
"He has been playing brilliantly," Grant Flower said in the lead-up to Monday's game. "I spoke to my brother last night and asked him the same thing, and he didn't have many answers. But there are a lot of class players and there are no obvious weaknesses, otherwise they wouldn't be playing at international level. But our main strength is spin, so hopefully we can get it in the right areas and he might succumb to the same pressures that everyone else is under."
One thing in Zimbabwe's favour is that it was spin that troubled Australia during their two warm-up losses, against India and South Africa over the past week, although Watson fell to pace both times in making 33 and 0. Australia know they must improve from those two opening encounters, although Watson was confident that the defeats were not an indication of how the rest of their campaign would unfold.
"We played some good cricket throughout the summer in Australia but we also knew that there was a little bit of improvement to go in just about all aspects of our one-day cricket," Watson said. "The past couple of days have been excellent for getting used to the Indian conditions and getting our game-plans and our roles in the team exactly where they should be."
Australia enter Monday's match Against Zimbabwe, in Ahmedabad, hoping to keep their unbeaten run in World Cups going - they have not lost a World Cup game since 1999 - but knowing they should not compare themselves to the teams headed by Ricky Ponting at the past two tournaments.
"I don't really see the pressure to defend the World Cup because we are a very different team to what the team was in 2007," Watson said. "In the end there's pressure on every team to win the World Cup, no matter what."