Aakash Chopra
The Insider The InsiderRSS FeedFeeds
Aakash Chopra looks at various aspects of cricket from a player's perspective

The low arts of Shane Watson

His ability to get down and under the ball has been key to his success on the subcontinent

Aakash Chopra

October 3, 2012

Comments: 19 | Text size: A | A

Shane Watson lofts a delivery, Australia v South Africa, Super Eights, World Twenty20, Colombo, September 30, 2012
Watson: under and onward © ICC/Getty
Enlarge
Related Links
News : Watson's dominance is absolute
Features : Watson fronts up
Players/Officials: Shane Watson
Series/Tournaments: ICC World Twenty20
Teams: Australia

It was a typical low, slow subcontinental pitch; a left-arm spinner with a round-arm action was operating, and the ball was only marginally short on middle and leg - the kind that forces you to be a little wary of the low bounce and makes you offer a straight bat instead of a horizontal one. Most batsmen, including ones from the subcontinent who grew up on these surfaces, would happily dab the delivery into a vacant on-side area and be satisfied with the outcome - mostly a single or a two. Years of batting on these surfaces have taught these men to bring out the horizontal bat shots only when the ball is really short and they are 100% sure of the bounce. Unlike when you play with a straight bat, where you can check your shot and convert an aggressive shot into a defensive prod even at the last second, once you've committed to a horizontal bat shot, there's no looking back. You're forced to execute it for good or ugly.

All of this only seems to be of academic interest when Shane Watson is batting, for he dispatches every short ball deep into the stands on the on side, even on these pitches. Where others are busy protecting their pads and wickets from the low bounce, he has found a way not just to make contact every single time but also to get under, getting elevation. How does he do it so efficiently?

Watson's trigger moment is among the unique facets of his batting. He goes deep into the crease with his back leg and keeps the toes of his front foot mobile, barely touching the ground. In doing so, he transfers his body weight completely onto the back foot just before the bowler releases the ball. This is, in fact, the antithesis of what the coaching manual recommends, which is that the batsman should distribute his body weight equally between both feet - the rationale being that equal distribution of weight makes both forward and backward movements easier.

In Watson's mode of operating, he prepares for the full ball first. Since the weight is already on the back foot, the forward movement becomes fluid, manifested in his long front-foot stride. But the moment the ball is even slightly short, instead of using a proper forward press to transfer the weight on to the front foot (like most other batsmen do, consuming precious time) before transferring it to the back foot again, he digs his front toe into the ground and uses that movement to transfer the weight and then swivels on to the back foot. In the process, he also clears the front leg quite nicely, which allows his arms a free swing. Watson's unique method of loading and unloading both feet to transfer weight gives him a precious few extra moments to pull even marginally short balls without fuss.

It isn't just Watson's ability to transfer his body weight that helps him get the ball to sail over the ropes so often. For such a tall man it must take special skill to not miss horizontal bat shots often on pitches where the ball stays alarmingly low. Watson manages to do so in large part by collapsing his back knee on almost every shot he plays. This helps him get under the ball and find elevation. To hit the ball in the air while playing horizontal bat shots, the bat must not go above the bounce of the ball in the backlift. It's incredible to see how low Watson goes by dropping his back knee and hands to get under the low bounce.

Watson has turned the fundamentals of batting on their head and is still hugely successful. It is widely believed that cricket is primarily a side-on game, and batting more so. It is believed that if both a batsman's shoulders are square-on while he plays strokes through the off side off the front foot, he is doomed. It is also thought that a straight drive can only be hit effectively with a straight bat.

Watson not only shows both his shoulders square-on, on almost every shot he plays, including the straight drive, he also plays with a vertically straight bat only against balls that are too full to be played with a slightly anguled or almost horizontal bat. Under normal circumstances, he should miss more often than not, but his back knee comes to his rescue. While playing a sweep, it's advised to drop the back knee, which helps you to stay really low, prevents you from going off-balance, and helps watch the ball closely. Watson follows the same principles, but does so even when playing down the ground. Staying low while playing all the shots off the front foot make him successful even on subcontinental pitches.

Collapsing the back leg has negative implications too. For starters, it makes it difficult to hit the ball straight, for your weight, instead of being on top of the ball, stays somewhere in between and you end up dragging the ball squarish on off-side shots. Somehow Watson has managed to take care of that too, which makes his adjustment quite extraordinary.

Finally, the secret to his clean hitting is the shape he maintains during and after hitting those big shots. Even while he plays outrageous strokes, like the flat-batted swipe over the bowler's head, he manages to stay quite composed. His arms, shoulders and torso are always firm, rarely losing shape.

Watson's unique way of playing makes it difficult for bowlers to find the right length and lines to bowl to him.

Former India opener Aakash Chopra is the author of Out of the Blue, an account of Rajasthan's 2010-11 Ranji Trophy victory. His website is here and his Twitter feed here

RSS Feeds: Aakash Chopra

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

Posted by   on (October 5, 2012, 10:26 GMT)

very good analysis, I think the grammars of a game like cricket are something that have come from experience rather than sound analysis and those rules help players to go to a certain level, but every great players had their own style, I mean you can't teach a kid to bat like Viv or Lara or bowl like murali.

Posted by ygkd on (October 4, 2012, 22:22 GMT)

Once upon a time top Australian batsmen could be seen getting down very, very low to play horizontal-bat shots on the offside. Footage of the likes of Kippax and Jackson from the '20s & '30s may be limited, but it does confirm this. Styles change - Watson's low-to-leg style is very short-form orientated, which shouldn't be a surprise. Not sure anyone should try to copy him, unless totally convinced that it suits them, though.

Posted by sixnout on (October 4, 2012, 16:17 GMT)

@vijaysr...I don't think you played published a book on cricket, so going by your comments, you should not review Aakash's article... Is that a stupid argument, you bet. If you go by the same argument, you cannot comment/analyse any international cricketer as they have played international cricket and most (all) of us commenting on this forum haven't.

Posted by Game_Gazer on (October 4, 2012, 12:56 GMT)

it's disgusting to see people commenting on Aakash's credentials on a technical topic...the man is a very sharp analyst, and this is an analytical article...its stupid to compare the things he observes with his own capability...

Posted by   on (October 4, 2012, 8:46 GMT)

@vijaysr: So you mean to say only great players should write articles about the technical analysis of the game?? This also implies that only the best students should be teachers??? Such a lame suggestion, just think over it. Akash's articles are very good. Doesn't matter how good or bad he himself was as a player. In fact, by that token you should also not criticise him, because I'm sure you wouldn't have played as much cricket as Akash has and definitely wouldn't have been that adept at technical aspects of the game, Right?

Posted by   on (October 4, 2012, 8:31 GMT)

I never miss any of ur article... u r gifted.... really enjoy reading you... You are the best and should try ur hand in commentry as well.

Posted by   on (October 3, 2012, 22:58 GMT)

@vijaysr, you cannot be serious mate, Aakash writes brilliant pieces and he has played so much of cricket that he is in a good position to write about technical aspects of batting or bowling for that matter.Rather than criticizing should actually praise the good work .Kudos Aakash, I'm a regular reader and I gain a lot from your writing and try to implement when i play club cricket.

Posted by vijaysr on (October 3, 2012, 18:58 GMT)

wow Aakash Chopra... such a great analysis abt a player.. I have one question for which I knw the answer.. let's see if u can figure out... why don't you do some analysis on your own batting and make a come back to Indian squad?!!! it's so easy to say things like Raina is struggling against short ball.. but prove yourself before saying it... am not trying to review ur analysis, am just saying your analysis doesn't matter until u have a name.. sorry!

Posted by Sudeeksh on (October 3, 2012, 17:42 GMT)

Oh! this is awesome analysis by Aakash. I have not seen a better article exploring the nuances of batting technique. And great to see some good innovation by Shane Watson. Hopefully other players can take note of this "apart from the text technique" and play a good, aggressive brand of cricket. This is the sort of stuff that becomes and makes a player legend!!!

Posted by   on (October 3, 2012, 16:08 GMT)

Don Bradman also had unorthodox methods and he continues to outshine batsmen to this day. Despite this, the coaching textbooks haven't changed to incorporate his clearly superior methods. I hope Watson goes on to win the WT20 for Australia so that coaches will reconsider whether orthodox truly is better. It's time we stopped being satisfied with 40+ test averages and truly smash Bradman's record.

Posted by KingCobra5 on (October 3, 2012, 14:08 GMT)

I just feel he is in good form...else he wud have gotten out lbw or bold in any of his innnings...but good article to read

Posted by   on (October 3, 2012, 13:44 GMT)

I think Watson himself does this much analysis on his batting. Probably why he can hit and Aakash could not!

Posted by stormy16 on (October 3, 2012, 13:08 GMT)

The author missed an important part of Watson success - brute strength. The man is storng as an ox. But yes what an amazing talent - there is almost no where you can bowl to this guy. If you over pitch he will thump you straight over the bowler the head.

Posted by   on (October 3, 2012, 12:52 GMT)

good one this.one more observation..he is evenly good at short balls in pace friendly pitches; without totally rock backing on his back foot, he can hook pull and square cut swiftly.

Posted by criclight on (October 3, 2012, 11:57 GMT)

its so easy, can b done by any good batter, yet only this oz boy is good at it, not so easy as explained.

Posted by   on (October 3, 2012, 7:50 GMT)

Super analysis Aakash ji like you always do.Hope aspiring players take the tips from your columns.

Posted by Naresh28 on (October 3, 2012, 7:34 GMT)

Anotherg good technical article by the master of technical writing!!!!!!

Posted by din7 on (October 3, 2012, 6:35 GMT)

well done akash. im not quite fan of ur batting but yes now of ur writing. Its true i always tried to find out watson is not a good player of spin but still is successful in subcontinent....he really sometimes looks awkward but he plays well. the technical analysis made by u has really helped in describing that.. he hardly comes down track on spinners, but still plays well.... i could just say he's unorthodox player of spin and so well i would on my tv to just see watson playin against spin...though eng needs to be teached such batting cause they cant be taught the basic skills of playin spin..but i really think thats natural and cant be taught

Posted by Meety on (October 3, 2012, 5:48 GMT)

Very interesting analysis, I think he'll have troubles back in Oz if he keeps that up here!

Comments have now been closed for this article

FeedbackTop
Email Feedback Print
Share
E-mail
Feedback
Print
Aakash ChopraClose
Aakash Chopra Aakash Chopra is the 245th Indian to represent India in Test cricket. A batsman in the traditional mould, he played 10 Tests for India in 2003-04, and has played over 120 first-class matches. He currently plays for Delhi in the Ranji Trophy; his book Beyond the Blues was an account of the 2007-08 season. Chopra made a formidable opening combination with Virender Sehwag, which was believed to be one of the reasons for India's success in Australia and Pakistan in 2003-04. He is considered one of the best close-in fielders India has produced after Eknath Solkar.

    What is Rohit Sharma's role?

Should India have practised slip catching in the nets? Who will play at the G?

    'I'd like to have faced the West Indies quicks'

Northamptonshire's David Willey picks his ideal partner for a jungle expedition, and talks about his famous dad

    Benn shows up in body and spirit

Tony Cozier: The spinner has brought in a sense of discipline into his bowling and behaviour on the field since his Test comeback

    The return of Bob Simpson

Rewind: When the 41-year-old former captain came out of retirement to lead Australia against India

Bowling to blame for India's poor overseas record

Kartikeya Date: The inability to build pressure by denying runs, even on helpful pitches, is India's biggest problem

News | Features Last 7 days

What ails Rohit and Watson?

Both batsmen seemingly have buckets of talent at their disposal and the backing of their captains, but soft dismissals relentlessly follow both around the Test arena

The perfect Test

After the tragedy of Phillip Hughes' death, this match showed that cricket and life will continue to go on. This time Test cricket dug in and got through to tea.

Hazlewood completes quartet of promise

Josh Hazlewood has been on Australian cricket's radar since he was a teenager. The player that made a Test debut at the Gabba was a much-improved version of the tearaway from 2010

Australia in good hands under proactive Smith

The new stand-in captain has the makings of a long-term leader, given his ability to stay ahead of the game

Karn struggles to stay afloat

The failed gamble of handing Karn Sharma a Test debut despite him having a moderate first-class record means India have to rethink who their spinner will be

News | Features Last 7 days