India v Australia, 1st Test, Mohali, 1st day October 1, 2010

Patient Watson passes the test

Shane Watson overcame India's bowling and barracking and the nervous 90s to score a fighting century

The way a man is perceived - by his peers, by the public, by the world at large - can change greatly in a day of Test cricket. The Indian fielders gave Shane Watson a few verbals in the morning session because they saw him as the most vulnerable among the Australians, a bit of a softie in that department. Watson, though, didn't allow that, or other tactics, to get to him and was around to block the last ball of the day having scored 101 off 279.

Watson stretched way forward to that ball from Pragyan Ojha, defended, tucked the bat under his arm and walked back. Rahul Dravid at slip was the first man to congratulate him. Then came Suresh Raina, all the way from midwicket, followed by Harbhajan Singh, who had played cat-and-mouse with Watson all day long. Zaheer Khan, who'd had a spat with Ricky Ponting earlier before bowling a superb spell of reverse-swing to bring India back, called out to Watson from the other end of the ground. Watson was perhaps too spent after more than six hours of fierce concentration and had to be nudged by Tim Paine to look Zaheer's way; he acknowledged the generous applause with a raise of the hand.

This was the same Watson with whom, two years ago, an Indian cricketer had had a physical altercation on the field. The same Watson whose antics often detract from his stature. The prat. The way a man is perceived can change greatly in a day of Test cricket.

Perhaps India didn't expect such an effort from Watson. For more than six hours - this was the first time he'd batted through a day in Tests - he didn't hit one shot over the infield. He spent 110 deliveries without hitting a boundary and was run-less for spells of 14 balls, 14 balls, 11 balls, 12 balls, and 12 balls, separated by the odd single or two. That might be business as usual for somebody like Dravid but Watson was defending out of his skin.

There seemed to be an exercise for the muscle memory too. As he took stance, Watson kept his right hand on his right knee until very late, holding the bat in just his top hand until the bowler was about to deliver. Perhaps it was a way of reminding himself to go soft on the bottom hand, perhaps it was a conscious exercise to ensure the bottom hand was not too stiff. Whatever its purpose, it worked.

The clear shift in his approach came when Watson was involved in Ricky Ponting's run-out, calling for a single after a ricochet off forward short leg. After that, he scored just 37 off 146 deliveries. Scoring slowly wasn't an indulgence, it was a necessity. After that Ponting run-out, India operated smartly. The bowlers responded to the captain's field sets and made sure boundaries would not come without risky shots.

Watson later apologised for the slow going. "Unfortunately 45 runs [in a session] isn't great entertainment, is it?" he said. "We are here to provide entertainment, but the Indians did bowl really well. Their fields were excellent, it did make it really hard to score and rotate the strike. I suppose that's what Test cricket is all about. They were tough sessions to get through. Hopefully those 45 runs become very valuable later on in the game."

The areas to score against the offspin of Harbhajan Singh were over midwicket and square on the off side. Ojha operated similarly, only with a slightly more protected off side, because against him Watson would be playing with the turn if trying to hit into the off side. All day long the spinners kept tossing it up, inviting the famous Watson slog-sweep. Harbhajan generously mixed in topspinners for the top edge. All day long Watson kept resisting, waiting for the ones down the wrong line to work away for runs. He had seen Michael Clarke perish while trying to manufacture a cut. That route was not taken by him unless the ball was really short. He faced 159 dot balls from the two spinners and hit just one boundary. Even the infamous Watson 90s couldn't draw a nervous response.

In scoring his third century in three innings on this tour, Watson cleared many tests today. He played a game that doesn't come naturally to him, he concentrated hard, and he kept a check on his emotions. Even after a supremely uncharacteristic effort, Watson knows his work is only half done because of the falling wickets at the other end, and partly because of the slow run-rate. He knows a day of such hard work can easily come to nought. Then again, who said Test cricket was easy?

Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at Cricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Andrew on October 3, 2010, 0:46 GMT

    I think Watsons future is at no.3, with Punter dropping sown the order. I won't knock Watto but I think there were times where he could of grabbed the iniative, but 3 centuries in a row on tour is pretty good. It bodes well for the future, he appeared to have been trying a different technique for Indian pitches - which I think is outstanding that he pulled that off. Today (Day 3), he will need to do a bit of bowling - I would of liked to have seen him have a bowl before Hauritz yesterday.

  • Andrew on October 3, 2010, 0:42 GMT

    @Popcorn - usually agree with you, but your comments on Hughes are too harsh. Hayden, took a while to find consistancy - Watson is about 6yrs older than Hughes , with alot more International exposure. I think Hughes is a gem, but it couldn't hurt spending time with Chappell.

  • Shehan on October 2, 2010, 8:46 GMT

    Well done Watson! Not an attractive but pretty effective nevertheless, considering the occasion demanded it. I was a bit disappointed he couldn't make a 150 today. though. He played very well for his second test ton.I was Impressed at how well he kept his cool, good players make their chances count.

    To all the Indians who cant appreciate a good innings just because they have only two decent bowlers (Zaheer and Singh) and not so good fielding standards, grow up. Its really getting old.

  • Dummy4 on October 2, 2010, 6:28 GMT

    Grow up Indian fans. Mohali , not bouncing and seaming as usual. Bad news for Ben and Pete!

  • Jason on October 2, 2010, 6:27 GMT

    Make no mistake North will be batting for his test career in the second innings - and it better be something special. A real shame considering how well he started his test career.

  • Rajaram on October 2, 2010, 6:26 GMT

    Shane Watson, you have truly arrived as an opener! Like Justin Langer and Sunil Gavaskar,you have shown application,grit,concentration, patience,tenacity,and temperament needed to be a good team player. Phil Hughes, learn from Shane watson - I would NEVER select you as an opener - you are not dependable - maybe at no.6 - but you do not have the solidity required for a no.6 batsman. So go back to the COE and learn.Greg Chappell taught Shane Watson.

  • Andrew on October 2, 2010, 5:41 GMT

    @bigwonder - the lamest/slackest thing a fielder can do is give a departing batsmen a verbal spray as they left the field. Zaheer is the one that erred in judgement. @nineteennineteen - too right. I think Usman would of been great here. I am a fan of Smith but he needs to make a big score next time he plays. North should be dropped, & I hate to say it but Hussey should go too.

  • Vijay on October 2, 2010, 5:06 GMT

    It occurs to my mind that the incident that is being talked about - the physical altercation with an Indian batsman was started by one Gautam Gambhir when he deliberately went and elbowed Shane Watson when he had the entire pitch to run in.

    I feel that Gambhir was lucky to get away with just a one match test ban and Vijay can in to the series without any experience and socred a few.

    I am an Indian here too and it was still shameful to see that episode of altercation. sad, indeed.

  • Arvind on October 2, 2010, 4:45 GMT

    Why are they still persisting with Marcus North?

  • Moha on October 2, 2010, 3:35 GMT

    Fine Innings Watto!!!. You can't minimize his innings because of drops catches (so called #1 team should have good fielding ability). It is so bad telling something to someone who is walking off the field (But I don't know what Zahir said). But there is no any moral right to AUS to complain about the sleddings. Australians are masters in sledding (How do you feel Mr. Ponting!! Is it hurting when you are getting back what you have been doing for decades).

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