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October 12, 2008
Shane Watson has spent enough time crying in his career to deserve the excited smiles he delivered after proving he could perform with bat and ball in a Test. For much of the time Watson's body has been as reliable as a poor university student's car, breaking down whenever he was beginning to know his place in the world.
Finally, aged 27 and understanding both disciplines, he has been able to take the first satisfying step in proving to himself - and Australia - that he is a man who the team can be built around. Three wickets and 32 not out are not figures that will spark excitement about the next Keith Miller, but it is the input in such crucial scenarios that was so important.
Late on day four Australia were flapping at 128 for 5 with an uncomfortable lead of 198. Harbhajan Singh had twirled with enough danger to force Michael Hussey into being bowled not playing a shot, and Watson was joined by another inexperienced player in Brad Haddin. Any nerves didn't show as he steadied himself and the team.
By stumps the advantage was 263 and Australia will need a disaster or an Indian miracle to lose. After play Watson was ecstatic with his performances over the past four days.
"This Test has been the most fun I have ever had playing cricket," he said. "It's been an amazing learning experience. Just batting out there is the most I have ever learnt in an innings.
"It's been an amazing three or four days so far. I'm having more fun than I ever thought I'd have playing cricket. I'm just making the most of it and enjoying every second."
The way he was able to play so freely under such pressure was also impressive. After Simon Katich had crawled to 34 off 140 balls, Watson and Haddin lifted the tempo so quickly it started to feel like a one-day game. As stumps approached they became more cautious, showing maturity after the bursts of high-energy.
"We went into it aggressively, definitely," he said. "We knew it was the best way to get out of a little bit of a hole. Harbhajan and Zaheer Khan showed [on Saturday] that if you can be fairly aggressive you can get a bit of luck going your way. That was our intent."
Good fortune got Watson on to the tour. If it was not for Andrew Symonds' desire to go fishing in Darwin before the Bangladesh one-day series Watson would not be in India. He is batting in Symonds' spot at No. 6 and delivering useful overs of medium-fast.
It is a position he doubted he would reach at times following a string of injuries that wore out physiotherapists and involved more treatments than a rich widow at a health spa. Watson's previous Test, against West Indies in 2005, ended when he dislocated a shoulder in the field and until now each recovery resulted in a strain or a tear in his wonky hamstrings.
Slowly he re-developed his body and has been a regular in the one-day squad since winning promotion to the side this year via the Indian Premier League. It was an unorthodox journey that is becoming more rewarding.
His first wicket in Bangalore was the big one of Rahul Dravid and he helped remove the nuisance of tail-enders Harbhajan and Anil Kumble, finishing with 3 for 45 off 19 overs. It wasn't the number of victims that excited him as much as his contribution to the attack.
"Wickets to me don't matter," he said. "My role is to bowl as tightly as I can and build pressure, to make it extremely hard. I enjoy every wicket I get - they're a massive bonus."
Watson will receive more overs on the final day and will look to upset the batsmen with reverse-swing, a touch of movement off a crack, or some skidding. A sore elbow for Stuart Clark, who is throwing under-arm, may also provide more opportunities for Watson.
"The ball is going to reverse-swing fairly quickly, which is very handy for our quicks," Watson said. "The wicket is deteriorating a little, but definitely not as much as I thought it would. We are going to have to bowl extremely well to bowl the Indians out."
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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