Shane Watson May 5, 2011

'I know at some stage I might be the one making the decisions'

Shane Watson still has much to learn about leadership and Test match batting, but he's made it his priority, and his tutelage under Warne and Dravid in the IPL will only help

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.

"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 is impressed with Warne's tactical strengths

"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

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Andrew on May 6, 2011, 22:03 GMT

    @Biggus - LOL! His school was pretty good though! @Blake Houston - mate we have two spinners who are a very good option at test level & neither were used during the Ashes. O'Keefe & Hauritz these two guys are not in the same universe as Warney or McGill, but they could/should do the job for us over the next 5 to 10 years if they stay fit. There are other spinners emerging who I think are possible contenders in a few years in O'Brien & Lyon. I also rate Cullen Bailey very highly & Beau Casson (in form), is test quality. @5wombats - a previous post ended up in cyberspace, I had a laugh about Hemmings & Embury, but I do hate to say I have to agree re: Watto. The other thing that poleaxed me about Watto is he averages 32 or something in ODIs batting first, 64 batting 2nd. Why? Because he has to "save" himself for bowling!!!!! I would say to a bloke who averages 60+ in ODIs STUFF the bowling! He needs to get his head right! Then & only then could be as great as Kallis.

  • Richard on May 6, 2011, 10:04 GMT

    @Blake Houston-Do you really think Mendis is as good as Murali? I think you're dreaming mate. These 'mystery' spinners have a good couple of seasons until someone works them out, and then it's usually downhill. Look up Jack Iverson and Johnny Gleeson. Whilst our spin bowling stocks are not great at the moment we are able to look elsewhere than your school team matey. Sorry, but you haven't convinced me. Not one bit.

  • Dummy4 on May 6, 2011, 9:16 GMT

    Some made a comment, that sri lanka can't replace murali, well he isn't any better then ajantha mendis in my opinion. Mendis is a very good spinner expecially in ODI cricket, his bowling will develop in tests and his figures will improve , he is such a dangerous bowler. Also theres herath, randiv and several other domestic spinners who are Very promising for sri lanka, THO FOR AUSTRALIA, it is going to be impossible to find a new spinner, as there is no spinners around that are any good, no youngsters coming thru, i have played a lot of cricket when i was in highschool, and 9/10 players bowl pace or don't bowl at all. I rarely saw a spinner, let alone a good one. Many spinners i saw were actually batsman , who just bowled part time spin. now every time a leggie came on the first thing the batter would do is hit him for a few boundaries, and then the skipper has to pull him off , he then goes to bowling pace because its too hard to contain runs with legspin bowling

  • Shane on May 6, 2011, 6:57 GMT

    Fascinating. The choice between a capt with no actual experience who learnt his trade by remembering all the decisions that Ponting made, and doing the opposite and a VC with no experience who learnt his trade by watching a poor captain (Dravid) and a captain that was never allowed to actually captain (Warne). Recently, you have to wonder whether this stuff is from a soap opera. Simple - some experience at captaining something (beyond your own media appearances) should be a prerequisite. Would you follow someone who, after taking a wicket, doesn't appeal, he does 'jazz hands'. Says it all really.

  • Richard on May 6, 2011, 3:13 GMT

    @5wombats-As we all know, Deadly Derek was pretty well unplayable on any wicket that was a bit dodgy but his lack of flight didn't do him any favours on flat tracks. Edmonds and Emburey were OK but nothing all that flash, on about a par with Ashley Mallett. I just happen to think Swann is very good, and remember that Warne and MacGill are the only two OZ spinners I bothered to mention in that period, so we're only one up on you guys. Watson, well, I'm not caught up in the euphoria of the moment and would prefer we had a specialist opener and could drop him to number 6 in tests. As I've noted elsewhere I reckon his tendency to lurch onto the front foot would get him into trouble against express bowling but there's not much of that around these days. Captaincy? Well I'd rather see him playing Tonto, the loyal lieutenant, rather than as the masked man himself. Both he and Clarke are a bit too 'boutique' for me, but a least Pup has a pretty cool head and is tactically strong.

  • Martin on May 5, 2011, 22:46 GMT

    @Biggus; oh yes - we have been lucky, oh so lucky to have had Warne in our lifetimes. What can anyone say that hasn't already been said - Shane Warne would get into anyones ALL TIME World XI. Surely Warne has to have some say in where Australia goes form here!? Agree about Macgill - bad luck that he showed up at the same time as Warne. Have to chuckle about Deadly Derek, toothless on good pitches? Do you mean uncovered pitches Biggus!!!!! Edmunds and Emburey were also pretty tasty - check your Ashes history especially the 86/87 series. Others have had their moments but it's probably (arguably) true that Swann is England's most dangerous spinner since Laker. Meanwhile - I'm not keen on Watson full stop. Check the run outs, check the getting out between 50 and 100, and worst of all check the body language. It's a worry if he is thinking of himself as a future captain already - at least let him give Clarke a chance!!!

  • Richard on May 5, 2011, 20:15 GMT

    @Cyprian-"we do not have a replacement for Warne yet", you say. We will likely not have a replacement for Warne in our lifetime. Not since O'Reilly or Grimmett in the 1930s have we had such a destructive spinner, and barring MacGill, who had the bad fortune to appear at much the same time as Warne, he's the best spinner I've seen play for Aus by about a factor of ten since I started watching in the early '70s. I wouldn't be holding my breath mate. Similarly, Sri Lanka will have their work cut out for them to replace Murali. How will they cope without him in the test arena? We've been rather spoiled in recent years with wonderful spinners and many newer watchers of the game seem to have come to the conclusion that this is normal, but nothing could be further from the truth, just ask our friend 5wombats, Graeme Swann is the only really dangerous spinner England have had in decades, maybe even going back to Jim Laker given that Derek Underwood was pretty toothless on good pitches.

  • Martin on May 5, 2011, 14:41 GMT

    @Cyprian; completely agree. Shane Warne was the best captain Australia never had. Brilliant for Australia and brilliant for the game of cricket. He needs to be in the mix somewhere. As for Watson - during some of those Ashes press conferences I thought he was going to do a Kim Hughes. Embarrassing - he's just not captaincy material.

  • King on May 5, 2011, 13:13 GMT

    @ Dashgar - Good reasons? I am yet to see one good reason why Clarke will be a poor captain.

  • cyprian on May 5, 2011, 12:52 GMT

    I don't think we in Australia have really understood where our cricket is going. Nothing much will have changed with the Ponting's departure as captain. It is still more of the same, the same pits we were in during the Ashes. At the moment, I think there is only one man who can turn it around for Australia: Shane Warne. OK, we all know about his off field reputation, but no one can deny his on field genius. It is the Warne brand of guts, genius and glory that deconstruct the existing mess and reconstruct a new future. Our bowling attack is not too hot, our batting is not the greatest (we do not have a replacement for Warne yet) and our planning is, well, up the creek. Wake up Australia or this could be the longest winter of our cricket gloom.

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