Brydon Coverdale
Assistant editor, ESPNcricinfo

India v Australia, 4th Test, Delhi

Time for Watson to stand up as leader

Seeing Shane Watson captain Australia might be unpalatable to some but despite the events of the past fortnight he is the logical stand-in if Michael Clarke is unfit

Brydon Coverdale in Delhi

March 21, 2013

Comments: 28 | Text size: A | A

Shane Watson is swarmed by reporters in Sydney, March 12, 2013
Shane Watson's frankness in public could sometimes be detrimental to the team environment © Getty Images
Related Links
Players/Officials: Shane Watson
Series/Tournaments: Australia tour of India
Teams: Australia

Australia avoided one leadership change on Thursday when Julia Gillard survived a would-be spill, but the more important matter of the Test captaincy remained uncertain. Okay, facetiousness aside, perhaps the prime ministership is of slightly greater consequence. But there is no escaping the ownership Australia's sports fans feel for the national cricket team and the prestige surrounding the captaincy. After all, Dave Gregory led the country 24 years before Edmund Barton did.

Prime ministers, by the very nature of party politics, are usually loathed by half the population, who want to see them fail. Cricket captains aren't always popular but rarely are they subject to quite that level of vitriol, largely because the nation's cricket fans would prefer to see the team succeed. But if, as expected, Shane Watson becomes Australia's 44th Test captain on Friday morning, those attitudes will be severely tested given the anti-Watson sentiment among some sections of the public.

To a degree, such a viewpoint is justified. There is no question that Watson handled his axing from the team last week badly. It was not about him flying home on the day the decision was announced, it was what he said on the way. Instead of accepting the decision with grace, he called the punishment "very harsh" and said he would weigh up his Test future while at home for the birth of his first child. Whatever his intentions, it came across as a dummy-spit.

And of course the source of the problem was that he was one of four players who failed to complete a task set by the coach, Mickey Arthur, which was based around how the team could improve. As vice-captain, he should have been leading by example. The issue was exacerbated by the general manager of team performance, Pat Howard, saying Watson was a team player "sometimes" and Watson hitting back by declaring that Howard wouldn't know.

Watson has a habit of saying things that don't do his public image any good. Recently this has included often expressing his desire to return to the opening position, which some people viewed as a campaign to oust Ed Cowan. That is not a fair assessment. The reality is that Watson is just honest, even artless, in the way he answers questions. If he is asked something - would you like to be opening in the Test team? - he says what he thinks.

That might sound commendable but in a team environment such public frankness can be detrimental. It certainly was last week. It should not, however, be a hanging sin. It was up to Watson to take a good hard look in the mirror and perhaps becoming a father gave him perspective. He has declared his commitment to Australia's Test team for the long term and has been welcomed back by the team management.

Cricket Australia would have the public believe that it is now happy families in the dressing room. That may not entirely be true, but stripping Watson of the vice-captaincy or overlooking him for the leadership in Delhi if Clarke is unfit would only serve to create tension and division in a squad that needs to unite. As stand-in captain during nine ODIs over the past two summers, Watson has shown some aptitude for the job.

Leading in a Test will be a tougher challenge but he will have men like Cowan, Matthew Wade and David Warner to call on for assistance. That such players, none of whom have played 20 Tests, will be his key deputies speaks volumes for the lack of experience in this squad. That is all the more reason to invest responsibility in Watson at this stage, to ask him to show the way, as Clarke usually does. Cowan said this week that Watson was a good leader around the group, and was a "lead-by-example" type, especially in the way he prepares. It is time he gave more than that.

Watson has said that when he captains "I use my brain in a different way than I normally do". That can be translated to thinking more about the team and worrying less about himself. That is not a bad thing, although it remains to be seen whether it will be detrimental to his batting. And that is the one area in which Watson simply must improve. He has averaged 25.20 in his past 13 Tests and has made only two centuries in 40 Tests. For a top-six batsman, that is an unacceptable return.

The vice-captaincy should not be a free pass into the XI - and nor should the captaincy, for that matter. But when Watson is bowling he provides vital balance to the team. Not only does he have a habit of taking important Test wickets, his all-round role creates room for another specialist batsman. That has been sorely lacking on this Indian tour, where Watson has decided against bowling in an effort to prevent injury.

He does, however, intend to be bowling again by this year's Ashes tour of England and a batting and bowling Watson is important in the structure of the team in the battle for the urn. There is no question that 2013, with its back-to-back Ashes series and difficult Indian tour, will be a make-or-break year for Watson. So far, it hasn't started well. If he continues to struggle with the bat he may not see the year out.

But ditching him from the vice-captaincy now, after he has committed to the side, would not help. The further sinking of his public image over the past ten days has been punishment enough. It might be unpalatable to some people - many people - to see Watson in the green and gold blazer at the toss of the coin in Delhi. He probably wouldn't beat Gillard or Tony Abbott in a popularity contest right now, and that's saying something. But for the sake of stability in a side that is seriously lacking it, if Clarke is unfit, Watson as captain is the logical choice.

Brydon Coverdale is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here

RSS Feeds: Brydon Coverdale

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

Posted by yorkaus on (March 22, 2013, 11:34 GMT)

Last 2 years, of Aussies that have played 10 or more tests, Clarke, Hussey, Warner, Ponting, Wade, Cowan, Pattinson and Hughes all have a better batting record than Watson. If you include those players with 5 or more tests, we can add Starc, Khawaja and Marsh to that list.

So I am confused about those who rate Watson so highly in this present team, especially when he can not bowl.

Posted by   on (March 22, 2013, 9:04 GMT)

Discipline a player by dropping him from the team. Then pick him as a captain for the next test. This must be a first in Test cricket. He redeemed himself by flying home while his team mates played a another losing test. Came back into the team captaining the side.

Posted by mysay on (March 22, 2013, 4:19 GMT)

That is indeed the logical choice. So for the time sake the appointment done get on with it. Leave the serious thinking and individual soul searching for the Ashes.

Posted by   on (March 22, 2013, 3:20 GMT)

Watson is a shrewd player and am confident that he will lead the team well. Australia is very desperate to keep their pride and therefore they will put full efforts to make this test interesting. I think Warner and Watson will come good and if Haddin as well contributes in batting, they will put big score in the first innings. With the return of Pattinson and the possibility of Mitchell Johnson playing, the team looks extremely good (even though Australia will miss Clarke). I am expecting an exciting test in Delhi.

Posted by Mary_786 on (March 22, 2013, 1:44 GMT)

Haven't been impressed with Watson's batting in this tour, but he was right in his comments on the homework drama, the whole world is still laughing at us and it did little for us in the 3rd test. It should have been dealt with behind doors in a group setting, badly handled by Arthur

Posted by   on (March 22, 2013, 1:41 GMT)

Yes -inclined to agree with 'Big Maxy' above ...and I think it should be stressed that Watson did NOT actually fly home in a 'Hissy Fit" as one SMH columnist suggested this week ... he had always intended to leave for the birth of his child ...and when he was suspended ( and what a ridiculous move was that ? quite entitling him to be a tad upset ! ) .. he just took the opportunity to 'be off' straight away ! ... and although overall he only averages 25 .. there was a period when he was sitting amongst the worlds top 2 or 3 most reliable openers ...and its THAT Watson that we want , and desperately need back !

Posted by Simoc on (March 22, 2013, 1:04 GMT)

I don't think there is to much choice involved. Watson is the second best player in our best team; Haddin isn't in the best team. Watson has done just fine, exposing the likes of Arthur and Howard as the job creation boys that get in the way and are achieving nothing worthwhile except to their own financial wellbeing. Since the selections have been hopeless to date we can expect more silliness today.

Posted by ConradFitzroy on (March 22, 2013, 0:35 GMT)

Question: How did Shane Watson make it into the Australian side in the first place? Answer: After our humiliating Ashes defeat in England in 2007 when Andrew Flintoff did some damage, Cricket Australia panicked about us not having a specialist all-rounder and basically presented Shane Watson with an offer to join the side. Since then it has been like trying to fit a square peg in a round hole. Watson has proclaimed himself back and forth from being an all-rounder to being a specialist batsmen and back again. Despite his obvious talent, his indecision and persistent injuries has resulted in him being a huge liability rather than an asset to the Australian Test team. By almost removing himself from Test cricket last week he was the closest he's been to doing anything constructive for the Australian team in many years. As for the Test captaincy, Watson as captain is a situation that must simply be endured until it's over - much like Julia Gillard in Australia!!

Posted by D.V.C. on (March 22, 2013, 0:12 GMT)

"[...] Whatever his intentions, it came across as a dummy-spit. The source of the problem [...]"

The source of the problem is the media's desire to turn everything into more of an drama than it already is. He's going to be in a reflective mood with the imminent birth of his first child. That's enough to make anyone consider their future. He'll be thinking is this Test stuff worth it, or should I concentrate my efforts on where I can make a little more money for my family. It isn't all about me any more. Those thoughts are swirling around in his head. He's about to tell the Captain and Coach he might have to go home for a bit. The way I read things their seemed like there might have been the potential for complications with the birth. And then the coach and the captain say we needed your assesment of the team's perform yesterday. Sorry if you had other things on your mind. You're out! We've got to set an example for the other guys! And then the media says he handled it wrong! Please.

Posted by Alexk400 on (March 21, 2013, 22:56 GMT)

You guys especially author of article thinking aussie team if full of legends. If you remove clarke only watson provides multi skilled and have enough oomph in his batting skills. His bowling is iffy for me but he takes crucial wicket just by luck. But i like his personality. There is no one better in the current crop. So shut up. We all know watson crushed indian in T20. Ofcourse Test is different. For me watson has all the stuff to be captain. He brings more to the table than anybody except clarke. Can he focus his mind and focus all his abilities to make australia a make stand in DD?. I think he can. But if there are "clarke's players who might undermine him also. Australian setup under mick arthur is a messy affair. I would get rid of micky arthur before ashes if you ask me. :)

Posted by Alexk400 on (March 21, 2013, 22:47 GMT)

He is great except one thing. That is his reoccurring injuries. It comes so often , he can't be captain. Other than that he is better than michael clarke for me. He has all the skills. He can bat and destroy indian spinners and bowl and get key wickets. He is level headed. I never seen him anything bad about anybody yet. May be i have not heard about if he said something. Reason i do not like michael clarke. He wants to win badly. But he needs to understand you can't win now until all current players gets into groove. He just rushing and alienating current set of players. My way or no way not working when your team is not talented. I feel aussie needs to find few young batsman. Probably physically tall and strong that can offset anyone lacking in skills. Shot and lacking skill like hughes not cut it. He was defending spin like deadball. It was funny to watch. He was moving too much around helter skelter way against spin. He just do not possess natural talent against spin.

Posted by Humdingers on (March 21, 2013, 22:46 GMT)

Watson, Cowan, Wade, Doherty and to an extent Lyon) are all passengers and need to go. Australia need to build a new team - based on the Alan Border / Steve Waugh school of hard fighting tough cricketers.

Posted by VivGilchrist on (March 21, 2013, 22:03 GMT)

Unlike a lot of people it seems, I actually like Watson. Could it be he expressed his displeasure at the team being treated like children? Did he have a differing opinion to Arthur? Is it really that bad to have differing views in a team? He will be fine. Watto has been shoved up and down the order to accomadate Cowan.

Posted by Chris_P on (March 21, 2013, 20:57 GMT)

@Cpt.Meanster. Agree, but you came up a little short. I would add that he doesn't even deserve a spot in the test team (as a batsman alone) based on fc form. I think you're a little harsh on him though, he is a wonderful player in the short form , his performances in the World T20 cup being an example. Agree with Haddin, but the NSL have shown they will stick with Wade, so Haddin won't be getting a start. With others not having leadership experience, Cowan presents himself as a level headed & knowledgeable cricketer, but there are few options.

Posted by ygkd on (March 21, 2013, 20:57 GMT)

Actually, just give the job to Haddin. And give him the gloves too.

Posted by ygkd on (March 21, 2013, 20:54 GMT)

cont/ In that sense I could never call Watson a logical choice for stand-in captain. One of the nearest things to an available option would be a better description. If one looks at the leaders doing the rounds of the Sheffield Shield, one sees Katich, Hopes, Bailey, McDonald (when fit), Klinger & North. But you can't be Vice Captain if you're not in the team and in that sense, Watson prevails. By default.

Posted by ygkd on (March 21, 2013, 20:46 GMT)

I can't help thinking that Australia's continuing leadership crises, for that's what they are, have been developing over time. During Ponting's reign, it seemed crystal clear that his tenure was over, but Clarke's was being stymied. Now the long wait appears to be reflected in Clarke's own tenure, where the kingly thing happens and all other viable candidates are eased out the door. Long live the king! There is no other choice! Watson is not a choice. Haddin is not quite a choice either. Cowan ditto. Where to from here? Well, it's a long way back, when the veteran players have been left out for no obvious reason and the one that was selected, M. Hussey, apparently didn't want to lead anyway. So, Clarke must shoulder responsibility for the mess, but it's not his mess alone. To some extent Ponting, M. Hussey, the selectors and the coach have all played a part. And because it's not just the fault of one person or didn't just happen overnight, it's a lot harder to fix than many realise.

Posted by Nutcutlet on (March 21, 2013, 19:58 GMT)

Shane Watson's moment has come. He could hardly have chosen a less auspicious scenario, either for himself or his team, but that's the way it is & he has to make the most of it. Watching this Test is going to be interesting on several fronts, but - for me - the most interesting of all will be to see how he handles the role; how the team responds to him & what we learn of SW, the battler as much as the tactician. I hope he rises to the challenge; it is likely to define him as a Test cricketer. It will certainly be tough, but Ozzie players have always prided themslves on that quality above all others. Let's see if he's got it.

Posted by   on (March 21, 2013, 19:06 GMT)

If Watson wears the thorny crown, the first he'll do is promote himself to open the innings. That means, poor Cowan comes at 4 after Hughes.

Posted by Hardy1 on (March 21, 2013, 19:01 GMT)

To be honest India & Australia are in very similar situations right now, both have young teams with just the one real experienced player being the captain (Clarke & Dhoni). The major difference of course being the continued presence of Sachin Tendulkar whereas Ricky Ponting has now retired, although I would have preferred to have seen Sachin retire around the same time Ricky did (well I would've preferred him to retire after winning the 2011 WC, but we won't go into that).

India's vice-captain (whoever that may be, Kohli most probably) is even more untested, so I'm just trying to make a point about how the Indian team isn't exactly very experienced & Australia should really have put up more of a fight. I hope that changes (still wanna see the whitewash though!) but I have a feeling it won't. Watson may come back & do well but he's much like Ishant on the Indian team. Both have had a good 40 Tests & still haven't done much; time to step up boys.

Posted by maddy20 on (March 21, 2013, 18:50 GMT)

Haddin would make a much better captain than Watson in the current situation, though I think Watson would make a much better than Clarke. having said that, none of these would make a difference as I expect another sound thrashing to end an embarrassing tour for the Aussies. A lot of Australian fans on this board have made fun of India when we were losing in Eng, Aus. Look at your own team now. So far, they have lost all the 3 games inside 4 days and no batsman has a century to his name. Your "spinners"(if you can call them that) look comical, dishing out dollies for our batsmen and your batsmen look utterly clueless. Fast bowlers were carted around Mohali by a debutant and even though they did better the next day it made no difference. Their off-field incidents have been equally funny. And to think some of them still think they can win the ashes! England will sweep the Ashes 5-0 or atleast 4-0(if rain interferes)

Posted by gsingh7 on (March 21, 2013, 18:45 GMT)

he is not captain material. aus might lose next test with record margin, as they have been thoroughly outplayed by emerging india. watson cannot stop indian juggernaut, for that matter nobody can.

Posted by Aussasinator on (March 21, 2013, 18:35 GMT)

Watson throws too many tantrums for a Test player of his ability and relevance. Without bowling he's not better than a Phil Hughes. Difference is Phil Hughes does not have captaincy aspirations , nay an overpowering desire.

Posted by   on (March 21, 2013, 18:15 GMT)

Sad state of affairs indeed! They don't really have a choice. Talk of Wade, Warner and Cowan as a part of the senior leadership is laughable at best. Pray for rain in Delhi.

Posted by Faizan_Bahadur on (March 21, 2013, 18:04 GMT)

So let me just get it suspend 4 players on disciplinary grounds coz they did not prepare for the next test and practically nullify your chance to keep the series alive.and the next week you make one of the suspended player your captain.what a joke Clarke and Arthur!!!!!keep it up Aussies. and for those who thought that the punishment would make Australia the best team in the future,just keep on dreaming guys.

Posted by cric_options on (March 21, 2013, 16:41 GMT)

I feel we are being too harsh to Watson. Every one has his own style of play and preparation, and Watson in his career has done enough to earn his space. He should be brutally judged based on his performances, like everyone else. Clarke is an immature leader who cannot handle different styles of preparation and attitudes. Such a temperament would never allow geniuses like Warne, Sobers, Sehwag, Symonds, Botham, Pietersen to flourish. If he wants mediocre players punching above their weight as a team and be consistently successful, he needs to wait for other competing teams to follow a similar management strategy. Cricket as we know, with all the romanticism would be dead by then.

Posted by Cpt.Meanster on (March 21, 2013, 16:29 GMT)

He is anything BUT captaincy material. In fact he shouldn't have even been chosen as Australia's vice-captain. He's a two-bit cricketer with inconsistency as his nick-name. That's Shane Watson inside a nutshell. Australia are doing the wrong thing by making him captain for this one-off test. Haddin is a better choice given he has lead NSW teams in the past and has also won the Champions League T20 with the Sixers.

Posted by Big_Maxy_Walker on (March 21, 2013, 16:16 GMT)

im thinking this might be the best thing for Watson. Responsibility and many fans calling for his head, just might do him the world of good

Comments have now been closed for this article

Email Feedback Print
Brydon CoverdaleClose
Brydon Coverdale Assistant Editor Possibly the only person to win a headline-writing award for a title with the word "heifers" in it, Brydon decided agricultural journalism wasn't for him when he took up his position with ESPNcricinfo in Melbourne. His cricketing career peaked with an unbeaten 85 in the seconds for a small team in rural Victoria on a day when they could not scrounge up 11 players and Brydon, tragically, ran out of partners to help him reach his century. He is also a compulsive TV game-show contestant and has appeared on half a dozen shows in Australia.

'Chanderpaul was always out to prove himself'

Modern Masters: Playing in a weak team, his single-minded focus is to be the best he can be

    The Bangladesh album

ESPNcricinfo XI: A look at the side's international highlights: from shocking Pakistan in 1999 to whitewashing New Zealand

South Africa's domestic spinners eye their chance

Firdose Moonda: Ahead of the first-class season, we look at the players the selectors will be watching closely

    Catch dodgy actions early

Ian Chappell: Kids mimic the cricket heroes of the day, so the problem of throwing must be tackled below the first-class level

A method to rate the dominance of Test teams

Kartikeya Date: Taking into account margin of victory and draws, while eliminating arbitrary decay in setting cut-off limits

News | Features Last 7 days

Champions League T20 still battling for meaning

The thrills are rather low-octane, the skills are a bit lightweight, and the tournament overly India-centric

Automaton, man, inspiration

Twenty years on, Shivnarine Chanderpaul continues to be understated, underestimated. And that doesn't bother him. What's not to like?

Busy keepers, and Waqar's bowleds

Also, high scores and low averages, most ducks in international cricket, and the 12-year-old Test player

85 Tests, 70 defeats

Of the 85 Tests that Bangladesh have played so far, they've lost 70 and won just four. Those stats are easily the worst among all teams when they'd played as many Tests

'My kind of bowling style is gone now'

Former New Zealand seamer Gavin Larsen talks about wobbly seam-up bowling, the 1992 World Cup, and his role in the next tournament

News | Features Last 7 days