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Australia's Watson dilemma

In 2009 and 2010, Shane Watson was Australia's best Test batsman, but since then his average is the lowest among their top-order batsmen

S Rajesh

April 26, 2013

Comments: 31 | Text size: A | A

R Ashwin got rid of Shane Watson cheaply, India v Australia, 1st Test, Chennai, 4th day, February 25, 2013
Since the beginning of 2011, Watson has been dismissed below 20 on 13 occasions in 28 Test innings © BCCI
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A little more than two years ago Shane Watson was an integral part of the Australian Test set-up, consistently scoring runs, and seen as one of the senior players who'd manage the transition after the departure of some legends. In the 2010-11 Ashes at home, though Australia were beaten badly, Watson was one of the few successes with the bat, getting starts almost every time and finishing with the second-highest aggregate for his team.

As it's turned out, though, that was his last substantial Test series, and the string of failures that have followed - along with the controversial incidents during the India tour - have raised serious question-marks about Watson's future as a Test player. Given that Australia have three important series coming in the next year - two against England and a tour to South Africa - they'll want a solution to this issue sooner than later. And given Watson's stats over the last couple of years, it's not difficult to see why the patience of Australia's selectors could be wearing thin.

In his last five series, plus a Test against South Africa, Watson has scored all of 710 runs in 28 innings, with a highest of 88 and an average of 25.35. In two of those series he hasn't had a half-century: in Sri Lanka in 2011 his highest was 36 in five innings, and in India earlier this year his top-score in six innings was 28. With him not bowling much either, Watson's contribution to the team in the last couple of years has been well below par.

In the couple of years before that, though, Watson was in the form of his life, averaging more than 50 and reeling off half-centuries every other innings: in 34 knocks he had 16 scores of 50 or more. He wasn't so great at converting them into hundreds, but given the slump he's in now he'll gladly take those numbers. His consistency during that period was incredible: only eight times in 34 innings was he dismissed for less than 20; in the last 28 innings, he's been dismissed for a sub-20 score 13 times.

Shane Watson's Test career
Period Tests Runs Bat ave 100s/ 50s Wickets Bowl ave
2005 to 2008 8 257 19.76 0/ 1 14 35.57
2009 to 2010 18 1613 50.40 2/ 14 28 28.71
2011 to 2013 15 710 25.35 0/ 4 20 28.10
Career 41 2580 35.34 2/ 19 62 30.06

Much talk recently has veered towards the relationship between Watson and Michael Clarke, the current captain. While incidents in India justifiably brought attention to this aspect, it's also true that Watson's stats under Clarke are much poorer than his stats when Ponting was captain. Under Ponting, Watson's Test average was 41.55 - it would have been higher if not for the poor start to his Test career in his first eight matches, when he averaged less than 20. Since Clarke has taken over, Watson's average has fallen by more than 36%.

Watson under each captain
Captain Watson-Tests Runs Average 100s/ 50s
Ricky Ponting 26 1870 41.55 2/ 15
Michael Clarke 14 688 26.46 0/ 4

The contrast between Watson the Test batsman between 2009 and 2010, and the one since then, is striking, especially when compared with other Australian batsmen. During those two years when Watson was at the top of his game, his average was the highest among all Australian batsmen. None of the others touched 50, with Clarke averaging 45.32.

Since Clarke has taken over, though, Watson's average has slumped to 26, which puts him right at the bottom of the pile of Australians who've aggregated 500 or more runs during this period. Australia's lack of batting riches also shows through in that list. Hussey averaged almost 51 under Clarke's leadership but is no longer around, while those who are in the Ashes squad have pretty ordinary stats over this period: Ed Cowan averages 33.03, while Phil Hughes is even lower, at 28.19. Add Watson's 26.46 to this, and you have a pretty underwhelming top order which England's pace attack will fancy bowling to, especially if conditions are favourable for swing bowling.

Test averages for Australia in 2009 and 2010 (Qual: 500 runs)
Batsman Tests Runs Average 100s/ 50s
Shane Watson 18 1613 50.40 2/ 14
Simon Katich 22 1907 47.67 4/ 13
Michael Clarke 25 1813 45.32 5/ 8
Michael Hussey 25 1771 43.19 4/ 11
Brad Haddin 20 1171 41.82 2/ 7
Phil Hughes 9 668 41.75 2/ 2
Ricky Ponting 25 1666 37.86 2/ 13
Marcus North 21 1171 35.48 5/ 4
Australian batting in Tests under Michael Clarke (Qual: 500 runs)
Batsman Tests Runs Average 100s/ 50s
Michael Clarke 24 2578 66.10 9/ 6
Michael Hussey 21 1630 50.93 6/ 5
David Warner 18 1255 41.83 3/ 7
Matthew Wade 11 602 37.62 2/ 3
Ricky Ponting 16 1015 37.59 2/ 6
Ed Cowan 16 925 33.03 1/ 6
Phil Hughes 14 733 28.19 1/ 4
Shane Watson 14 688 26.46 0/ 4

Watson's drop in form over the last couple of years has meant his overall average has fallen to 35.34; when batting in the top six it's 37.20, which is among the lowest for an Australian top-order batsman in the last two decades and more. Among batsmen who've batted at least 40 times in the top six for Australia since 1990, the only ones who average lower than Watson are Hughes and Greg Blewett, who played during a period when most sides had pretty potent bowling attacks: in the 46 Tests that Blewett played, the overall batting average was 27.33; in the 41 Tests that Watson has played, the average is 31.02. Using that as a factor, Blewett's career average of 34.02 (it's slightly different from his top-order average as he batted a couple of times at No. 7) was 1.24 times the overall average in the matches he played in; for Watson, that ratio is 1.14, which means in real terms Blewett's average is actually a touch higher than Watson's.

Similarly, the two Marks who're in the list below Watson, Taylor and Waugh, also played during an era when batting averages were lower - the overall average in the Tests Taylor played (since 1990) was 29.88, while it was 29.85 for Mark Waugh.

Watson's clearly capable of more than we've seen from him recently; the Ashes might be his last chance to convince the selectors and the Australian team management that he is worth persisting with in Test matches.

Australian top 6 batsmen with lowest averages since 1990 (Qual: 40 innings in the top 6)
Batsman Tests/ Inngs Runs Average 100s/ 50s
Phil Hughes 24/ 45 1452 33.00 3/ 6
Greg Blewett 46/ 77 2423 33.19 3/ 15
Shane Watson 38/ 69 2493 37.20 2/ 19
Mark Taylor 93/ 166 6306 40.94 15/ 35
Mark Waugh 128/ 207 8026 42.24 20/ 47

S Rajesh is stats editor of ESPNcricinfo. Follow him on Twitter

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Posted by Mary_786 on (April 30, 2013, 2:26 GMT)

@Beertjie well said, i agree 100%.

Posted by Someguy on (April 29, 2013, 11:19 GMT)

If Watson isn't bowling, he has no place in the team.

Also, it's not really fair to say that his form has dropped since Clarke has been captain, implying that it is anything to do with Clarke.

He has had several injuries during that time and has been rushed back into the test team without proving/finding form first. That period where he was consistently scoring runs was also the only time in his career where he remained injury free for any extended period.

He has also had the added pressure of being the VC. Some people just can't handle that. Clarke, on the other hand, is the type of person that thrives on it.

Also, even when he was in good form in the test team, he was still incapable of converting a start. He is one of the best short form batsmen/allrounders in the world, he should stick to that and prolong his career rather than risking more injuries in test cricket.

Posted by Beertjie on (April 29, 2013, 10:04 GMT)

Watson, Cowan and Hughes all need to shape up or ship out: big scores or bust! Silk is the future opener but Rogers' selection will give him time to mature. Try Warner at 6 in England while the others get their chances. If Khawaja scores well lower down he can move up in the return series depending on how Watto and the others do. It's still a revolving door so let's not give unlimited chances to guys to fail. As for the all-rounder, let's see how durable the bowlers are. My bet is that Bird can do a McGrath-like job, so there'll be less need for an all-rounder. Four bowlers complementing one another will do the job. Watson and Harris should get the initial chances so that the bowling (and batting) options can be narrowed down.

Posted by Amith_S on (April 29, 2013, 8:49 GMT)

Watto and Pup are 32, yet Pup has developed but maturity wise they both kinda feel like there about 28. Not men in there 30′s.Geoff Marsh was so mature, as vice-captain, as was Mark Taylor and steve waugh, and both seemed to play central roles within the team. If Watto and Pup coudl get along we would have a very dangerous combination. In any even I am predicitng that not being VC will help Watson perform better and he will be doing both bowling and batting in the coming ashes. I wouldn't open with him yet, stick with the current lineup with Warner, Cowan, Hughes,Khawaja, Clarke, Watson.

Posted by popcorn on (April 29, 2013, 0:31 GMT)

Shane Watson has been an under achiever THROUGHOUT HIS Career.He could have been ou BEST All rounder - like Andrew Flintoff - but he is confused in his Roles. He is a GOOD Number 4 or 6 batsman and a fourth or fifth fast bowler.This is his LAST CHANCE SALOON.

Posted by Paul_Rampley on (April 28, 2013, 10:41 GMT)

@hyclass like you i am hoping Watson fires both with bat and ball in the ashes. If he does fire he adds the balance that was missing in the India series. Like you I would also have Khawaja at either 3 or 4 and hopefully he can use the Aus A games to get some runs under his belt. I applaud the selectors for getting the mix right for this squad, they picked the best from what was available and well done to CA for getting the preperation games in place to ensure our boys are ready to go on July 11.

Posted by hycIass on (April 28, 2013, 10:08 GMT)

I know we have too many openers, but for me Watson should either open or not be in the top 6. He did his best job as opener and even though i hate using T20 as a form guide his form as opener for Rajistan is showing how he takes the game away from the opposition. If i was the coach I would move Watson to opener, have Khawaja at 3 or 4(as he is the best number 3 in the country) and move Cowan to 6 or have Rogers at 6 depending on who out of those 2 you pick. Alternativly you can have Watson at 6 but my fear is that he will get caught out by spinners again. And if Watson is not bowling then i am not sure I would pick him because his bowing has been very successful in England in the past series.

Posted by Meety on (April 28, 2013, 5:30 GMT)

@Jediroya on (April 26, 2013, 13:59 GMT) - fair enuff in terms of pacing an innings - for ODIs, for Tests I'm not so sure. His poor average over the last 2 years is more of a result of being out injured, then rushed back in. I thought it was interesting that he failed v Sth Africa in Perth, looked ordinary in Hobart v SL, & then started to look okay in Melbourne. That was all on the back of basically no cricket in the month leading up to the WACA. 4 or 5 innings - he started to look good, then injured. He came back well in the ODIs, but he went to India with no red ball cricket again. (That said he didn't improve v India).

Posted by cloudmess on (April 27, 2013, 2:23 GMT)

Watson should bat at 6, play his natural attacking game, and bowl a few overs. He needs to start performing again as a batting all-rounder, but he should also be given a bit more opportunity to do so.

As a general policy, though, Australia should start blooding more younger players, even if it initially costs them a few series. And they should do exactly what they did in the mid 1980s - identify the toughest-minded players (rather than necessarily the most talented) and stick with them. Steve Waugh finished his career as one of Australia's great post-war players. But look up his stats after 21 tests and 3 full years in the game - he's averaging 27 with the bat (with no 100s) and has 30 wickets at 36.

Posted by   on (April 27, 2013, 1:07 GMT)

Both Watson and Phil Hughes needs to be dropped from the Aussie side. They are highly over rated but look at the number game !

Posted by   on (April 26, 2013, 20:45 GMT)

bowling, mid overs,reverse swing,if Watson does that,no problem with batting average. But if he thinks about Australia and IPL at the same time,and saving himself for lucrative contracts then it's selfish and Australia has already suffered.

Posted by SAF. on (April 26, 2013, 19:10 GMT)

My team for the Aussies would be: 1.Warner 2.Watson 3.Khwaja 4.Clarke 5.Rogers 6.Wade 7.Haddin 8.Harris/Bird 9.Siddle 10.Pattinson 11.Lyon

Posted by   on (April 26, 2013, 18:01 GMT)

What would be more fair is to look at his stats as an opener vs as a middle order batsman. Cowan fits more of the no5 or no 4 mold than an opener

Posted by   on (April 26, 2013, 17:40 GMT)

i think watson should drop down to no 6 and try to play his natural game and score quickfire 60-80 runs and return to chip 2-3 wicket which should be perfect game for watto. my team for 1st test will be 1.Warner 2.cowan 3.Huges 4. Chris Rogers 5.M.Clark 6.watson 7.Haddin 8.R.Harris 9.Pattinson 10.siddle 11.lyon

Posted by Chris_Howard on (April 26, 2013, 16:10 GMT)

Unfortunately, Watson's form in 09/10 masked his failings and his true self a #6 or 7 all rounder. His inability to turn 50s into 100s clearly indicated he didn't have the temperament for batting up the order and batting long innings.

Those results demonstrate that he's not a top order batsman. Certainly shouldn't be in the top 5.

Every player goes through a purple patch but you can't judge them on that alone.

But if he is to be a top order bat, then the bad patches have to be the anomaly, not the purple patches.

Posted by Jediroya on (April 26, 2013, 13:59 GMT)

Meety is spot on in pointing out the difference in his ODI record batting between setting a target and chasing. and right in saying the problem is with his head, but i don't think its thinking about bowling. Watson himself has said when he bats first in ODIs he doesn't know how to construct or pace his innings, when he bats 2nd he has a clear plan and knows what he needs to do. In Tests that problem only gets worse due to the longer length of time involved, especially in the middle order. Openers have a clear purpose of seeing off the new ball and Watson was ok doing that, until about 20 overs in where he suddenly stopped looking for runs - he mentally didn't know what to do. Lower down the order you also have a clear role of batting for as long as possible with the recognised batsmen then shepherding the tail. but in the middle order there is no such clarity of role - just bat! therefore imo Watson has to either open or bat 6, but not in between. personally I'd have him at 6.

Posted by ravi_hari on (April 26, 2013, 13:58 GMT)

Its a choice between potential and performance. Watson is potentially the best allrounder in the world after Kallis. Deos he perform to that billing? It is difficult to say. When he walks out and knocks the first few deliveries you get the feeling that he is in great touch. However, he does not extend it and walks back disappointed and disappointing others. A lot of players have this tendency. Is it a deficiency or lack of confidence? Again difficult to answer. However, it is for Watson to decide whether he wants to be remembered as a talent wasted or an exceptional performer. Look how Steve Waugh grew despite deficiencies. Very few players are born with the abilities Watson has. But converting them on the field is what Watson needs to do. I think if Watson does not have the fire in the belly CA is justified in treating him like any other player - perform or perish. If CA's treatment has created doubts in Watson's mind then all should sit down and find out how not to loose a winner!

Posted by choo_for_twenty_choo on (April 26, 2013, 13:34 GMT)

@Romanticstud - total baloney! Watson has bveen pandered to since his debut - allowed to bat where he wants and bowl (or not bowl) when he wants like some special needs cricketer. He was "identified for greatness" by the academy since his youth cricket days. How has he rewarded his supporters in the last few years? Well, the (lack of) runs, wickets and Homeworkgate speak for themselves. Time to put this alsoran out to pasture.

Posted by TeamRocker on (April 26, 2013, 13:14 GMT)

I still think that Watson has it in him to be the player he was earlier. If he's given a top order spot, and Cowan is moved to no.4, Australia would be a really solid team. I still thank god for Faulkner as he puts pressure on Watson to perform, the lack of which has been Watson's undoing. My Aussie team: Watson, Rogers, Hughes, Cowan, Clarke, Khawaja, Haddin, Starc, Pattinson, Siddle, Lyon. This puts Cowan and Khawaja down the order to get the shields up in case of an emergency, Watson and Rogers forming a dangerous right-left combo. Hughes is a back up for the openers, and Haddin is the lower order experience Australia need. Clarke, of course, is Clarke.

Posted by   on (April 26, 2013, 12:37 GMT)

Yeah but if he bowls and picks up 3 or 4 wickets a game he only has to average in the 30's and he'll be more then worth a place, But he'll have to step it up if he wants to stay there as a specialist batsman

Posted by Meety on (April 26, 2013, 11:01 GMT)

@sifter132 on (April 26, 2013, 9:21 GMT) - I think for 9/10 batsmen, strong ODI returns lead to good or better Test innings. I think Watto is a bit different, in that he is not good at picking up singles. ODI field placings are benficial to him, but don't exist in Tests. Look at the difference between when Watto bats 1st & when he bats 2nd in ODIs. It beggars belief - & the prime reason being, in his HEAD he is thinking about bowling when he bats first. In tests, he will more often than not have to bowl after batting & combine that thought process with the constant fear he would have in the back of his mind about getting reinjured, he just can't seem to hang in & grind it out. I think another important aspect is, this constant re-admission straight back into the Test team after an injury. He is being hung out to dry in some respects. I was dead set against him being re-selected for the 3rd Test @ the WACA - he failed, as he had no crease time prior!

Posted by Chris_P on (April 26, 2013, 10:31 GMT)

I didn't need this to know he hasn't been worth selecting for the past 2 years. Simply said, he has not been delivering, even in first class & I have been hammering this point for at least a year. Yet still, we see him selected in the Ashes squad ahead of more worthy recipients. Personally, I cannot recall another Australian cricketer who has had this run in selections for such a period since Steve Waugh in the mid 80's but he was in his early 20's & everyone saw how he was developing. Watson is on the down side of the age curve. He is now a one day/T20 format player.

Posted by sifter132 on (April 26, 2013, 9:21 GMT)

Lliam Flynn is on it...Watson's batting position has been a major factor in his demise. Compare for example his ODI batting where he has been opening constantly since 2009. If Watson really has lost form we'd expect to see a drop in splits between the 2009-2010 numbers and the 2011-current numbers in ODIs as well. But we don't... From 2009-2010 he made 1784 ODI runs @ 43.51. From 2011 til now he's made 1714 runs @ 47.61. Get him back at the top of the order in Tests, show some confidence in him instead of mumbling about how he might not get a spot in the team if he can't bowl (Pat Howard remark...). You might just see the same consistency he's had in ODIs! Glad this article was featured though, to point out to doubters that those 2009-2010 Test numbers are all class. Averaging 50 with bat and 28 with ball? Yet it's hard to find Aussie fans who like Watson (as a Test player at least). It's a shame.

Posted by Rashgul on (April 26, 2013, 8:53 GMT)

You just wonder if it's Clarke's captaincy. He may be a 'good' captain for himself where his own performances are judged; but it seems that he does not instill that confidence in others. Personally, I think Clarke is Aus best captain since Taylor. However, Eng should comprehensively wipe the floor with Aus. I expect Eng to win 4-0 or even 5-0 like the ODI series last summer.

Posted by derpherp on (April 26, 2013, 8:49 GMT)

@JimboK: Get over yourself. James Faulkner? No way. Watson is the best allrounder we have. That shot looked ridiculous due to the terrible pitch. Watson should have known that yes, but anywhere else in the world he would have hit it. Clarke was dismissed in a similar fashion, playing a shot for a ball that was nowhere near the bat. Should he be dropped and called "gutless" and "an illusion" too?

Posted by D.V.C. on (April 26, 2013, 8:43 GMT)

I can't think of too many other allrounders you'd write an article on just their batting. Kallis would be the only one. Show me two other allrounders with a bowling average under 35 and a batting average over it.

Posted by   on (April 26, 2013, 7:15 GMT)

Hmmm.. Watson averaging less than Hughes ,that was a shocker; maybe Faulkner/Starc should be the next in line as bowling allrounders for the aussies, Cosgrove can be groomed to be the dasher at the top

Posted by CoverDrive888 on (April 26, 2013, 6:40 GMT)

To be honest, I have never rated Watson. Even when he opened, he relied on plumb wickets, little seam movement and a big lunge straight down the wicket. The chances of that being successful for long were always very limited. Originally his bowling was straight up and down mediocre, but at least he's improved that. He hits the ball hard but give him a bat from 20 years ago and see just how much is bat and how much is talent. He got into the side because of a shortage of decent players and some great desire for the all-rounder we've never had except for Keith Miller. He's good enough to be in the side now because Warner, Cowan, Hughes are pretty close to rubbish. However, I think we need to get past the all-rounder fascination, get six decent batsmen, a wicketkeeper who doesn't miss chances like he's a millionaire, and four decent bowlers, and get back to basics. If Starc makes runs or one of the batsmen can tie up an end and get the odd wicket, that should be seen as a bonus

Posted by   on (April 26, 2013, 5:22 GMT)

Shame that Mr Rajesh left out one statistic that I think is critical: From 2009 - 2011 Watson opened the batting in 45 innings (more than half of his 70 batting innings total) for an average of 43.67. There was one innings at batting position #2 in the recent India series where everyone failed, and from batting position 3 downwards his average starts at 28.50 and drops off rapidly. I really think it is imperative that Watson open and be given a few matches in which he gets the opportunity to save his career.

Posted by JimboK on (April 26, 2013, 5:18 GMT)

That horrible cross-bat hoick he played in the second innings of the last Test in India should have seen him consigned to the outer darkness for the rest of his days. Quite simply, it was the worst shot, displaying all the arrogance and hubris that has marked his career, that I have ever seen from an Australian captain. As long as I can remember, commentators and selectors have been waxing lyrical about his 'undoubted potential'. Well, it's time: where is it? He's a chimaera, an illusion. He has no heart, no guts. There's just no substance there. He should have been dropped on form long before his sense of entitlement did him in in India. Thank the gods for James Faulkner.

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S Rajesh Stats editor Every week the Numbers Game takes a look at the story behind the stats, with an original slant on facts and figures. The column is edited by S Rajesh, ESPNcricinfo's stats editor in Bangalore. He did an MBA in marketing, and then worked for a year in advertising, before deciding to chuck it in favour of a job which would combine the pleasures of watching cricket and writing about it. The intense office cricket matches were an added bonus.

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