February 12, 2012

Watson should remain at the top of the order

His batting skills are too good for him to be saddled with a frontline bowler's job too

The Australian Test team's resurgence has been swift and convincing, but that shouldn't lead to overconfidence.

Two of Australia's more experienced players, who are now performing in Sydney grade ranks, Brad Haddin and Shane Watson, are required in the Caribbean tour party in order to continue the side's improved performance.

Any discussion about Watson revolves around his fitness and a likely move to the middle order. Watson is injury-prone and it's a problem. It's hard to believe he has missed the whole summer with a calf injury. After an injury-free period his return to fitness uncertainty makes the case for him reverting to a part-time bowler even stronger.

Watson is a top-class opening batsman. That role is crucial because in all the euphoria over Australia's domination of India, it shouldn't be forgotten that on a couple of occasions the top order was reduced to tatters before the experienced middle-order players retrieved the situation.

All the talk about Watson not converting starts into centuries often enough misses the point of the task at hand. There are two types of successful openers: those who get a start and go on to amass big scores and those who are hardly ever dismissed early but rarely pass the century mark.

As an opener Watson has only been dismissed for under 20 13 times in 45 innings and five of those came in his last eight digs. This is not the time to lose confidence in him as an opener, and demoting him to the middle order so he can bowl more isn't as straightforward as it may sound.

Watson is best equipped to be a top-order player and there's every chance he won't be as effective in the middle order. The lowest I would contemplate using him is at No. 3, but before making that move Australia need to find someone who is a better opener. I haven't seen that player yet.

Watson and David Warner could turn out to be a highly explosive combination at the top of the order. When they fire, Australia could be on the path to victory in the first session of a Test match. In addition, Watson's experience and consistency could be invaluable to Warner, allowing him the freedom to play with an attacking flair that comes naturally.

As for Watson's bowling, I'd treat him as a part-timer whose main priority is to make runs at the top of the order. He might bowl a couple of short spells during the day but nothing that's going to detract from his batting. With Australia's strength in pace bowling and spinner Nathan Lyon showing promise, there shouldn't be any need for Watson to provide more than just a few overs in a day's play.

Haddin's presence in the Test side gives Matthew Wade an extended opportunity to acclimatise to international cricket via the shorter forms of the game. By the end of the Indian Test series Haddin's glovework was much sharper, and his batting still has a destructive edge to it. While he wasn't keeping like a man whose time has come, he does need to be more consistent.

Even if the selectors can't convince Cricket Australia to take a second wicketkeeper to the Caribbean, Wade could be chosen as the extra batsman. Of all the young batsmen around, he is probably the best qualified for the middle order. He has had success in that position in the Sheffield Shield competition and he plays spin bowling better than the likes of Shaun Marsh, Usman Khawaja and Phillip Hughes.

While Watson and Haddin may currently be relegated to club cricket it shouldn't mean they are no longer considered important members of the Test side. Wade needs to force Haddin out of the team with the weight of international performance and a fit Watson is a must at the top of the order.

Former Australia captain Ian Chappell is now a cricket commentator and columnist

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  • Rileen on February 15, 2012, 20:04 GMT

    I like Watson, but the truth of the matter is that he's too fragile to be a regular allrounder, yet not good enough to play as only an opener.

    To call him a top-class opener is a great exaggeration, and to point out his average of 38 and mere 2 centuries is not to miss the point at all. An opening combo of Warner and Watson is going to give you a terrific start only once in a while, more often than not it shall result in an early wicket, or two.

  • Neil on February 14, 2012, 23:48 GMT

    Can't believe people still mention Hughes. He is hopeless. How many times has he failed. Haddin is getting close to the same territory now.

  • Randolph on February 14, 2012, 16:43 GMT

    Isn't it obvious Khawaja should be 3, with Watto at 4. Hughes and Warner to open. Plain obvious. Also poms - keep wiping that egg off your faces. It's hilarious to watch :)

  • Nick on February 14, 2012, 5:18 GMT

    Sorry Ian, usually you make sense but not this time - get rid of that defensive mindset. Big scores by openers are needed to set the tone for test series. We need an experienced specialist opener and the best guy for the job is Mike Hussey. Watson started out as a middle order player. He only has 2 test centuries in a whopping 58 innings, averaging a mere 38. Seriously, the only thing keeping him in the team is his bowling, which is more impressive than solid but unspectacular batting. Unlike Watson, Khawaja was dropped for making starts and getting out. But Khawaja can't bowl like Watson - which is why Watson is still in the team. This is not the 1920s. Openers need to put the team in a dominant position, not simply see off the new ball. You can tolerate 30s and 40s at number 6, not up front. Hughes, Jaques and Warner have as many or more 100s than Watson despite Watson playing many more innings. A couple of years ago he was in the form of his life and has very little to show for it

  • Dummy4 on February 14, 2012, 1:11 GMT

    Agree with Ian's view, but why is it that it always comes out when the answer is so blatantly obvious. Watson's performances more than warrant him staying at the top of the order, and given the performance of Australia's young attack in the recent Test series', there shouldn't be a need for Watson to put in much time with the ball at all. I don't agree with the decision to retain Brad Haddin though - now that Australia has started showing signs of fostering a performance culture, Haddin should be given the flick in lieu of Matthew Wade, whose domestic record and recent form in the one-day arena speak volumes for his talent. Cowan is still an unknown quantity in my opinion, and given his age, not sure if he's the right choice going forward. As an interim solution he is OK, while the ACB find a more suitable, and younger, replacement.

  • jai on February 13, 2012, 21:37 GMT

    Ian, I think you are getting old and hence .... I disagree with your views. May be you need to lose little bit of that patriotism and you will come out of that thing which is blinding your views.

  • Dummy4 on February 13, 2012, 17:33 GMT

    Few changes I would make to the test side, Watson and Warner to open, followed by Wade at number 3(wk), Ponting@4, then Clarke 5, Mike Hussey 6, then Dan Christian for the allrounder role at 7, then ur bowlers: ryan harris, peter siddle, Hilfy and lyon. This means that watson would hardly be needed and could be used as a partnership breaker with the ball and after he got the breakthru take him off!! Let watto focus on his batting as he is one of our best batsman in the country. Also Wade at number 3 whether he is keeping or not seems a solid option, he has the shield record to back it up and has played well for australia so far. If u look at a comparison of peter forest and matt wade as batsman u will see wade has the much better record in both first class and one day domestic.

  • Brenton on February 13, 2012, 13:37 GMT

    There is a spot at 3 but if he takes it he can't bowl much at all. These young bowlers coming through may make this possible. There was a period when he was our best bowler and opening the batting, obviously a workload too big. This may have contributed to his current injury. If he is to bowl he has to go down to at least 4.

  • Dummy4 on February 13, 2012, 10:29 GMT

    @takenaback: Watson does have to be nursed as a bowler. Simply go and look at his fitness record and you can see that. Asking a guy to bowl 26 overs as he did one Test in Sri Lanka and to then go in at the top of the innings is absurd. A Warner-Cowan-Watson top order works very well for me. With Punter and Hussey in at 4 and 5 and Wade coming in for Haddin, that looks good on paper. Watson has played as an all-rounder but it's clear that the stress is too much for his body. Every return from injury, he has to find both the batting and bowling touch again. Australia would gain far more from him by putting him in at 3 and limiting his bowling to, say, maybe two 3 to 4 over bursts per day in the field at Test level.

  • Roo on February 13, 2012, 6:44 GMT

    @Kunal Nanda... Agree about the TV commentators - never liked most of them... Over winded braggards & rarely follow the play on the field... Luckily in Oz we have the national broadcaster ABC on digital radio - so I just turn off the volume on the TV & listen to more respectful & interesting commentators from both Oz & abroad... Much fairer & more enlightening... Cricinfo also helps :) ...

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