'I know at some stage I might be the one making the decisions'
Shane Watson is gleaning as much as he can from Shane Warne and Rahul Dravid in the IPL while reconciling himself to the fact the Australian side he is about to drive is not capable of matching their feats. In Warne and Dravid, Watson could not have two better mentors for the tasks ahead, as he and Australia's new captain, Michael Clarke, embark upon the task of rejuvenating a team that slid to a horrendous Ashes defeat and an early World Cup exit.
Not only the most valuable player in the Australian team, Watson is also Clarke's vice-captain, the winner of the past two Allan Border medals, and the only member of the current side to be considered a natural choice in any contemporary World XI. For all this he remains in a state of development, both as a leader and as a Test opener, where his penchant for handy half-centuries must be built upon if he and his team are to make significant strides over the next 12 months.
Little more than two years ago it would have been deemed optimistic in the extreme - if not a little daft - to mention Watson as a Test-captaincy contender. Now he is next in line after Clarke, a position of far greater resonance when the new captain's decidedly slim past year of Test batting enters the equation.
Amid the hustle of the IPL, Watson is seeking to grasp Warne's tenets of leadership and Dravid's Test batting, while angling for a little more batting time in the Rajasthan Royals spinners' net ahead of the August tour of Sri Lanka. Warne's place as a friend and teacher to Watson and Clarke is significant, and it is arguable that he might have greater influence on the direction of the Australian teams of 2011 and beyond than he did on the team in which he played a vital but rigidly defined role in his later years as a Test player.
"Warney's influence on me, throughout the last three or four years, since I've been able to spend a lot more time playing with him, has been very significant on my game, the way I bowl, and reading the game more," Watson said.
"Seeing the things that Warney does, his tactical thinking, really seeing that at work, continues to open my eyes. There's no doubt his relationship with Michael Clarke has shaped the way Michael does captain, and the tactics he picks as well. I think it's a brilliant thing because there's no doubt in my mind that Warney is one of the best minds that's ever played the game.
"The fields he sets and the bowlers he picks - it's pretty amazing to see the decisions he makes, and the fields that he sets come off nine out of 10 times."
Watson said he hadn't faced Warne in the nets a lot but was hopeful they could get some time in together over the next few weeks as a lead-in to the Sri Lanka tour.
Warne's tactical spark has begun to fire Watson's mind, as he trains himself to look beyond the issues of batting, bowling and body that defined his Australian role until quite recently. Looking back to his younger self, perhaps the one that celebrated so unwholesomely at dismissing Chris Gayle in a Test match in Perth in December 2009, Watson can see how much he has grown as a leader.
"Yeah much differently, definitely, because now I know there might be a chance at some stage that I might have to be the person to make the decisions on the field, so my eyes are much more open to what's being done," Watson said. "Even over the last six months I've tried to open my eyes up to that aspect of the game as well. I've definitely got my views and certain ways of thinking tactically, and also [about] the roles of people within the team, so it's one point of my development that's really come on. Now to be able to be so close to Warney and see how he goes about it as one of the best in the world, I'm very lucky."
Luck, in the form of the IPL auction, has also played a part in bringing Watson and Dravid together. While they will more than likely spar against one another when India tours Australia later in the year, for now Watson is sitting at the feet of Dravid, among cricket's most supreme exponents of run accumulation.
"That's the continual fight for every batsman, trying to clear your mind as quickly as possible," Watson said. "I have been very excited about actually playing with Rahul, from watching him from afar over the last 10 years or more he's been playing Test cricket, and especially seeing how dominant he has been over his career. So I'm very lucky to talk to him about the ways he's able to clear his mind and concentrate for long periods of time. That's the beauty of the IPL, as well: to be able to mix with different people and be able to dive into their mind and be able to find different ways that might work for me."
Finding what works is the great challenge confronting Watson, Clarke and the rest of the Cricket Australia hierarchy, ahead of Test series against Sri Lanka, South Africa, New Zealand, India and West Indies. In Bangladesh, Watson and Clarke were inseparable, whether it was striding out to practice, talking shop while carrying armfuls of batting gear, or chatting purposefully in the team hotel late on the eve of a match.
Watson described the week in Dhaka as a chance to articulate a "collective vision" for the future, before Clarke travelled home to discuss things further with team management and the Cricket Australia board. What emerges from these discussions will be better known once the list of centrally contracted players is released, but for now Watson said it was important to define the team by what it can do rather than by what its predecessors did.
"My opinion is always that whatever the strengths of your team are, that's what you've got to stick to. We can't try to emulate what the Australian team did five or six years ago with the amazing talent they had. We've got to stick to our strengths and what we have in our team, to be able to try to develop a really good game plan around that. That's what the next two or three months are going to be, to find and know what the team's going to be and develop our cricket around our strengths and weaknesses in that team.
"There's no doubt the Australian public do expect us to play the way teams did five or six years ago and how aggressive they were, and all that really came down to how amazingly talented the whole group was. The people playing back then were some of the greats who have ever played the game, and that's something we're going to be trying to develop as individuals and as a team."
Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo