Shane Watson bounces back
Only last year Shane Watson was willing to go to any lengths for a remedy to the recurring hamstring injuries that had curtailed his blossoming career. His frustration was so extreme that he was even thinking of getting cow's blood injected into his hamstrings to make them stronger.
The Australian selectors, too, were getting edgy about the future of one of their promising allrounders. Watson missed the Ashes, both in 2005 and in 2006-07 and the frequent breakdowns left a perennial question mark over his future.
But, finally, Watson seems to have turned a page. His performance in the Indian Premier League (IPL) is evidence that he possesses the quality vital to an allrounder - the ability to turn the match with bat and ball. Watson's won four Man-of-the-Match awards for the Rajasthan Royals in 14 games - only Shaun Marsh, his countryman, has more with five - and he's been his captain Shane Warne's go-to man. Today, he delivered once again.
Rajasthan were already in a strong position after the Powerplays at 58 for 0 when Watson arrived with the brief of maintaining momentum through the middle overs. "It took me a few balls to understand the wicket and the bounce but after that I got into the rhythm," Watson said.
He scored only 10 off his first 10 balls before deciding to target the inexperienced medium-pacer Yo Mahesh. He swung him for four to long leg and then carted two enormous sixes over the leg-side in the 11th over which cost 20 in all. He combined his muscle with adept footwork against the legspinner Amit Mishra, picking him from outside off stump and depositing the ball into the stands at deep midwicket.
Watson's innings - 52 off 29 balls - ensured that the momentum provided by Rajasthan's openers was not lost even though both Graeme Smith and Swapnil Asnodkar fell in the same over from Farveez Maharoof. Watson aggressive innings helped set Delhi a target of 193 but it was his opening burst with the new ball that ended the match as a contest.
Having gauged that the pitch offered bounce, Watson exploited it effectively, pitching the majority of his deliveries short of a length and beating the batsman with pace and bounce. So potent was his spell that Gautam Gambhir, the tournament's second highest runscorer, struggled to lay bat on ball. He played and missed four consecutive deliveries before his innings was cut short by a splendid catch at cover off the fifth. Virender Sehwag too was done in by a bumper - top edging a hook - and Shikhar Dhawan pulled another short one to square leg.
"We had set strategies and today we wanted to bowl short of length, bowl fast and bowl into the body," said Warne after the 105-run victory. Watson's spell of 3 for 10 off three overs was the result of the perfect execution of the plan - 67% of his deliveries (12 out of 18) were on the shorter side.
"Throughout the series he has been superb," Warne said. "He lost a bit of the edge in the last few games but today he was absolutely fantastic and showed his class. He's a fantastic all-round cricketer and good enough to be in the Australian team."
For now, though, Watson's immediate goal is another match-winning performance in the IPL finals on Sunday.