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He began in the middle order before finding his place as an opening batsman, but on the second day at Lord's it was all about his bowling
July 14, 2010
Nobody would have blamed Shane Watson if he'd quit bowling years ago. His body was so brittle that every time he ran in a breakdown seemed more likely than a breakthrough. But after each snapped hamstring or stress fracture, every torn calf or wonky hip, he would smile, as if in denial, and insist that he could heal and return stronger. Now he's on the Lord's honour board after taking his first Test five-wicket haul.
It's an achievement not to be sneezed at; with Watson's luck he'd probably dislocate his vertebrae in the process. Shane Warne never took five at the home of cricket. Dennis Lillee didn't manage it either. Nor, for that matter, did Jeff Thomson, who thinks Watson's bowling is rubbish and once famously described him as "not an allrounder's arsehole".
Watson will never be a strike bowler but in swinging conditions he is a valuable option for Ricky Ponting. And the ball swung today. He attacked the stumps and had both Akmal brothers trapped lbw before he'd conceded a run, although Shahid Afridi soon saw to it that Watson's economy rate ballooned.
Within ten deliveries, his figures of 2 for 0 became 2 for 30. But Watson continued to pitch the ball up, allowing it to curve, and he was rewarded when Afridi inevitably skied a catch. Watson's most impressive wicket came when he curled an inswinger in to bowl the left-hander Salman Butt, who was the only Pakistan batsman to show any real fight.
At that stage, Watson was stuck on four victims and he was forced to wait for his chance at a fifth, two rain delays sending him inside to gaze up at the honour boards, tantalisingly close to joining the elite group. Looming large was the presence of Keith Miller, who Watson says continues to inspire him, and when play resumed he was determined to etch his name into history.
An edge to slip from Danish Kaneria and the job was done. Watson didn't bother with the now traditional ball-raise on completing a five-wicket collection, instead running off to pad up for his primary job as the team's opening batsman. Despite being caught in the cordon for 31, Watson was all smiles after a performance that surprised him as much as anyone.
"I had my eye on the batting side of things to try and get a hundred at Lord's in my first Test here but unfortunately that wasn't meant to be," Watson said. "To be able to get it as a bowler is going to take a while for me to get my head around. Over the last few days leading up to this Test I worked really hard on a few things on my bowling ... the last three or four months my bowling hasn't been exactly where I wanted it. For it to come together today has been brilliant."
In the Lord's nets this week he has especially been working on swing, which he can achieve but without much consistency. Today, the cloudy conditions helped him immensely. He hadn't bowled at all in Australia's previous four limited-overs games, due to general soreness. When his Test career began, he was a No. 7 batsman and third seamer, and striking the right mix between his new positions is a challenge.
"Opening the batting, my most important role within the team is to be able to score runs," he said. "My bowling has probably been a little bit on the backburner... my position in the team has changed quite significantly from what it was a couple of years ago. I'm still trying to find the perfect balance of being able to open the batting and bowl."
For the time being, he'll settle for an unexpected privilege. There's a new honour board in the visitors' dressing room at Lord's, created for neutral Tests, and Warren Bardsley and Charles Kelleway are up there for their batting in 1912 against South Africa. Shane Watson is the first bowler to join them.
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