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Andrew Symonds' ill-discipline gave Watson the chance to show he could be a fully-fledged international batsman. In his fifth Test, he took it
October 19, 2008
Mark Twain said three weeks were required to prepare a good impromptu speech, but for Shane Watson it took eight years of first-class studying to become a Test batsman in a day. Watson, 27, achieved the upgraded reputation on Sunday with a classy innings in the most examining conditions.
It was not because the 78 almost doubled his previous best in Tests, but because of the poise and sense he showed in a crisis. Australia were in a disastrous position and with each hard-earned run, forward push or back-foot pull, he dragged them closer to India's distant total. Australia have Watson to thank for giving them a chance to save the game over the next two days.
Seeing Watson relaxed yet committed for so long was strange. For most of his international career he has been the one-day man trying to blast late or early runs in a muscular style. In first-class matches in Australia and England he has scored 12 centuries, including two doubles. He knows how to bat. This was his chance to prove it in Tests.
Watson walked out to start the day with Australia 102 for 4 and shortly before lunch the situation was a dire 167 for 7. Mostly because of his fragile body, Watson has also had to put up with regular murmurs of mental weakness. This innings showed he is a cricketer with fight.
"I'm learning a lot, I learnt a lot from the last innings in Bangalore and was able to take that into this innings today," he said. "It's not as tough as it's going to get, but it's one of the tougher innings I'll play."
When the ball wasn't swinging, it was spinning from the hands of Harbhajan Singh and Amit Mishra. With every over, Watson was scrutinised and for more than four hours and 155 deliveries he succeeded. Only when he went back to Mishra and the ball stayed low could India remove him. A century was out of reach - there were only two tailenders for company - but he deserved to remain unbeaten.
Showing surprisingly soft hands for a player brought up in pace-friendly Queensland, Watson countered the spinners in comfort. Once settled, he was happy to go down the pitch, but he was quick to step a long way back when given the opportunity, like Damien Martyn four years ago. Sometimes he was so sharp it was like watching the footwork of Michael Clarke.
To Harbhajan - and, at times, to some of the fast men - he took guard on off stump for extra protection. "I find it gets me in line with the ball a lot more, especially with the ball turning into me," he said. "It's just something I've been working on the last couple of years."
In his stance Watson is so regimented, like an amateur golfer trying to remember four coaching tips at once. Then the downswing starts and everything becomes natural. He was pleased his technique held up so well under such heavy testing.
"My batting has evolved a lot over the past three or four years," he said. "I've had a couple of really good batting coaches, working on a few things to the quicks and spin. It's great when the things you've been working on come off and I can bat for long periods of time. It was such an enjoyable, challenging day."
Over the past couple of off-seasons Watson has spent thousands of hours in the nets working on a method that will gain him this success. Andrew Symonds' ill-discipline gave Watson the chance to show he could be a fully-fledged international batsman. In his fifth Test, he took it.
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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