Australia turn to Watson's experience for tips
If George Bailey's Australia have to displace India as the No 1 ODI side during their seven-match series, Shane Watson will have to play a big role. Not just with the leather and the willow that he is accustomed to, but more so in mentoring a squad that lacks experience at the highest level.
If Australia's final training session at the Cricket Club of India's Brabourne Stadium before flying to Rajkot for Thursday's solitary Twenty20 international was an indication, Watson was ready for the challenge. The allrounder, who joined the squad on Monday evening following Rajasthan Royals' fruitful Champions League T20 campaign, appeared to be the sought-after senior during Australia's extensive practice session.
Almost everyone returning from his stint in the nets was seen seeking tips from Watson. And it was perfectly understandable since Watson's wealth of experience of playing in India dates back to Australia's triumphant Champions Trophy campaign in 2006. Adam Voges, who was among those who sought Watson's advice, admitted the latter would indeed wear the mentor's hat along with wicketkeeper Brad Haddin during the series.
"Shane is a senior player along with Brad Haddin and these guys bring a wealth of experience, particularly here in India," Voges said. "Shane has played a lot of cricket here and any tips that he can give to any of our guys, I am sure we all will be listening."
Having been on the road for a fortnight during Royals' dream run in the CLT20, Watson expectedly took it easy, only doing fielding drills early on. Once he was done with that, the most experienced international cricketer in the Australia squad of 14 switched to the mentoring role for the rest of the session.
First, he stood close to the fast bowlers' nets and was seen constantly passing on tips. He had a prolonged discussion with Mitchell Johnson, the only other squad member besides Watson with more than a 100 ODI caps, who is looking to cement his place in the Australia side. The duo appeared to be discussing gripping the ball and wrist positions.
Watson then walked across the outfield and stood behind the batsmen, observing whether his tips had had an impact on Johnson's bowling. Soon, he was joined by his Royals teammate James Faulkner and the duo was involved in yet another extended chat. After finishing the discussion, Watson sat down on a chair. For the next half hour or so, it became a free-for-all information session for all his team-mates.
If they follow Watson's words of wisdom and he repeats his heroics in the last ODI against England, Australia may well pose a serious threat to India's top ranking by the end of the series.
Amol Karhadkar is a correspondent at ESPNcricinfo