ICC Cricket World Cup 2011 / Features

Australia's Watson dilemma

In 2009 and 2010, Shane Watson was Australia's best Test batsman, but since then his average is the lowest among their top-order batsmen

S Rajesh

April 26, 2013

Comments: 31 | Text size: A | A

R Ashwin got rid of Shane Watson cheaply, India v Australia, 1st Test, Chennai, 4th day, February 25, 2013
Since the beginning of 2011, Watson has been dismissed below 20 on 13 occasions in 28 Test innings © BCCI
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A little more than two years ago Shane Watson was an integral part of the Australian Test set-up, consistently scoring runs, and seen as one of the senior players who'd manage the transition after the departure of some legends. In the 2010-11 Ashes at home, though Australia were beaten badly, Watson was one of the few successes with the bat, getting starts almost every time and finishing with the second-highest aggregate for his team.

As it's turned out, though, that was his last substantial Test series, and the string of failures that have followed - along with the controversial incidents during the India tour - have raised serious question-marks about Watson's future as a Test player. Given that Australia have three important series coming in the next year - two against England and a tour to South Africa - they'll want a solution to this issue sooner than later. And given Watson's stats over the last couple of years, it's not difficult to see why the patience of Australia's selectors could be wearing thin.

In his last five series, plus a Test against South Africa, Watson has scored all of 710 runs in 28 innings, with a highest of 88 and an average of 25.35. In two of those series he hasn't had a half-century: in Sri Lanka in 2011 his highest was 36 in five innings, and in India earlier this year his top-score in six innings was 28. With him not bowling much either, Watson's contribution to the team in the last couple of years has been well below par.

In the couple of years before that, though, Watson was in the form of his life, averaging more than 50 and reeling off half-centuries every other innings: in 34 knocks he had 16 scores of 50 or more. He wasn't so great at converting them into hundreds, but given the slump he's in now he'll gladly take those numbers. His consistency during that period was incredible: only eight times in 34 innings was he dismissed for less than 20; in the last 28 innings, he's been dismissed for a sub-20 score 13 times.

Shane Watson's Test career
Period Tests Runs Bat ave 100s/ 50s Wickets Bowl ave
2005 to 2008 8 257 19.76 0/ 1 14 35.57
2009 to 2010 18 1613 50.40 2/ 14 28 28.71
2011 to 2013 15 710 25.35 0/ 4 20 28.10
Career 41 2580 35.34 2/ 19 62 30.06

Much talk recently has veered towards the relationship between Watson and Michael Clarke, the current captain. While incidents in India justifiably brought attention to this aspect, it's also true that Watson's stats under Clarke are much poorer than his stats when Ponting was captain. Under Ponting, Watson's Test average was 41.55 - it would have been higher if not for the poor start to his Test career in his first eight matches, when he averaged less than 20. Since Clarke has taken over, Watson's average has fallen by more than 36%.

Watson under each captain
Captain Watson-Tests Runs Average 100s/ 50s
Ricky Ponting 26 1870 41.55 2/ 15
Michael Clarke 14 688 26.46 0/ 4

The contrast between Watson the Test batsman between 2009 and 2010, and the one since then, is striking, especially when compared with other Australian batsmen. During those two years when Watson was at the top of his game, his average was the highest among all Australian batsmen. None of the others touched 50, with Clarke averaging 45.32.

Since Clarke has taken over, though, Watson's average has slumped to 26, which puts him right at the bottom of the pile of Australians who've aggregated 500 or more runs during this period. Australia's lack of batting riches also shows through in that list. Hussey averaged almost 51 under Clarke's leadership but is no longer around, while those who are in the Ashes squad have pretty ordinary stats over this period: Ed Cowan averages 33.03, while Phil Hughes is even lower, at 28.19. Add Watson's 26.46 to this, and you have a pretty underwhelming top order which England's pace attack will fancy bowling to, especially if conditions are favourable for swing bowling.

Test averages for Australia in 2009 and 2010 (Qual: 500 runs)
Batsman Tests Runs Average 100s/ 50s
Shane Watson 18 1613 50.40 2/ 14
Simon Katich 22 1907 47.67 4/ 13
Michael Clarke 25 1813 45.32 5/ 8
Michael Hussey 25 1771 43.19 4/ 11
Brad Haddin 20 1171 41.82 2/ 7
Phil Hughes 9 668 41.75 2/ 2
Ricky Ponting 25 1666 37.86 2/ 13
Marcus North 21 1171 35.48 5/ 4
Australian batting in Tests under Michael Clarke (Qual: 500 runs)
Batsman Tests Runs Average 100s/ 50s
Michael Clarke 24 2578 66.10 9/ 6
Michael Hussey 21 1630 50.93 6/ 5
David Warner 18 1255 41.83 3/ 7
Matthew Wade 11 602 37.62 2/ 3
Ricky Ponting 16 1015 37.59 2/ 6
Ed Cowan 16 925 33.03 1/ 6
Phil Hughes 14 733 28.19 1/ 4
Shane Watson 14 688 26.46 0/ 4

Watson's drop in form over the last couple of years has meant his overall average has fallen to 35.34; when batting in the top six it's 37.20, which is among the lowest for an Australian top-order batsman in the last two decades and more. Among batsmen who've batted at least 40 times in the top six for Australia since 1990, the only ones who average lower than Watson are Hughes and Greg Blewett, who played during a period when most sides had pretty potent bowling attacks: in the 46 Tests that Blewett played, the overall batting average was 27.33; in the 41 Tests that Watson has played, the average is 31.02. Using that as a factor, Blewett's career average of 34.02 (it's slightly different from his top-order average as he batted a couple of times at No. 7) was 1.24 times the overall average in the matches he played in; for Watson, that ratio is 1.14, which means in real terms Blewett's average is actually a touch higher than Watson's.

Similarly, the two Marks who're in the list below Watson, Taylor and Waugh, also played during an era when batting averages were lower - the overall average in the Tests Taylor played (since 1990) was 29.88, while it was 29.85 for Mark Waugh.

Watson's clearly capable of more than we've seen from him recently; the Ashes might be his last chance to convince the selectors and the Australian team management that he is worth persisting with in Test matches.

Australian top 6 batsmen with lowest averages since 1990 (Qual: 40 innings in the top 6)
Batsman Tests/ Inngs Runs Average 100s/ 50s
Phil Hughes 24/ 45 1452 33.00 3/ 6
Greg Blewett 46/ 77 2423 33.19 3/ 15
Shane Watson 38/ 69 2493 37.20 2/ 19
Mark Taylor 93/ 166 6306 40.94 15/ 35
Mark Waugh 128/ 207 8026 42.24 20/ 47

S Rajesh is stats editor of ESPNcricinfo. Follow him on Twitter

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Comments: 31 
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Posted by Mariam on (April 30, 2013, 2:26 GMT)

@Beertjie well said, i agree 100%.

Posted by Mark on (April 29, 2013, 11:19 GMT)

If Watson isn't bowling, he has no place in the team.

Also, it's not really fair to say that his form has dropped since Clarke has been captain, implying that it is anything to do with Clarke.

He has had several injuries during that time and has been rushed back into the test team without proving/finding form first. That period where he was consistently scoring runs was also the only time in his career where he remained injury free for any extended period.

He has also had the added pressure of being the VC. Some people just can't handle that. Clarke, on the other hand, is the type of person that thrives on it.

Also, even when he was in good form in the test team, he was still incapable of converting a start. He is one of the best short form batsmen/allrounders in the world, he should stick to that and prolong his career rather than risking more injuries in test cricket.

Posted by Mashuq on (April 29, 2013, 10:04 GMT)

Watson, Cowan and Hughes all need to shape up or ship out: big scores or bust! Silk is the future opener but Rogers' selection will give him time to mature. Try Warner at 6 in England while the others get their chances. If Khawaja scores well lower down he can move up in the return series depending on how Watto and the others do. It's still a revolving door so let's not give unlimited chances to guys to fail. As for the all-rounder, let's see how durable the bowlers are. My bet is that Bird can do a McGrath-like job, so there'll be less need for an all-rounder. Four bowlers complementing one another will do the job. Watson and Harris should get the initial chances so that the bowling (and batting) options can be narrowed down.

Posted by Amith on (April 29, 2013, 8:49 GMT)

Watto and Pup are 32, yet Pup has developed but maturity wise they both kinda feel like there about 28. Not men in there 30′s.Geoff Marsh was so mature, as vice-captain, as was Mark Taylor and steve waugh, and both seemed to play central roles within the team. If Watto and Pup coudl get along we would have a very dangerous combination. In any even I am predicitng that not being VC will help Watson perform better and he will be doing both bowling and batting in the coming ashes. I wouldn't open with him yet, stick with the current lineup with Warner, Cowan, Hughes,Khawaja, Clarke, Watson.

Posted by Rajaram on (April 29, 2013, 0:31 GMT)

Shane Watson has been an under achiever THROUGHOUT HIS Career.He could have been ou BEST All rounder - like Andrew Flintoff - but he is confused in his Roles. He is a GOOD Number 4 or 6 batsman and a fourth or fifth fast bowler.This is his LAST CHANCE SALOON.

Posted by Allan on (April 28, 2013, 10:41 GMT)

@hyclass like you i am hoping Watson fires both with bat and ball in the ashes. If he does fire he adds the balance that was missing in the India series. Like you I would also have Khawaja at either 3 or 4 and hopefully he can use the Aus A games to get some runs under his belt. I applaud the selectors for getting the mix right for this squad, they picked the best from what was available and well done to CA for getting the preperation games in place to ensure our boys are ready to go on July 11.

Posted by Phil on (April 28, 2013, 10:08 GMT)

I know we have too many openers, but for me Watson should either open or not be in the top 6. He did his best job as opener and even though i hate using T20 as a form guide his form as opener for Rajistan is showing how he takes the game away from the opposition. If i was the coach I would move Watson to opener, have Khawaja at 3 or 4(as he is the best number 3 in the country) and move Cowan to 6 or have Rogers at 6 depending on who out of those 2 you pick. Alternativly you can have Watson at 6 but my fear is that he will get caught out by spinners again. And if Watson is not bowling then i am not sure I would pick him because his bowing has been very successful in England in the past series.

Posted by Andrew on (April 28, 2013, 5:30 GMT)

@Jediroya on (April 26, 2013, 13:59 GMT) - fair enuff in terms of pacing an innings - for ODIs, for Tests I'm not so sure. His poor average over the last 2 years is more of a result of being out injured, then rushed back in. I thought it was interesting that he failed v Sth Africa in Perth, looked ordinary in Hobart v SL, & then started to look okay in Melbourne. That was all on the back of basically no cricket in the month leading up to the WACA. 4 or 5 innings - he started to look good, then injured. He came back well in the ODIs, but he went to India with no red ball cricket again. (That said he didn't improve v India).

Posted by David on (April 27, 2013, 2:23 GMT)

Watson should bat at 6, play his natural attacking game, and bowl a few overs. He needs to start performing again as a batting all-rounder, but he should also be given a bit more opportunity to do so.

As a general policy, though, Australia should start blooding more younger players, even if it initially costs them a few series. And they should do exactly what they did in the mid 1980s - identify the toughest-minded players (rather than necessarily the most talented) and stick with them. Steve Waugh finished his career as one of Australia's great post-war players. But look up his stats after 21 tests and 3 full years in the game - he's averaging 27 with the bat (with no 100s) and has 30 wickets at 36.

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S Rajesh Stats editor Every week the Numbers Game takes a look at the story behind the stats, with an original slant on facts and figures. The column is edited by S Rajesh, ESPNcricinfo's stats editor in Bangalore. He did an MBA in marketing, and then worked for a year in advertising, before deciding to chuck it in favour of a job which would combine the pleasures of watching cricket and writing about it. The intense office cricket matches were an added bonus.

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