Watson accepts all-round role
Shane Watson has conceded he does not merit a place in Australia's Test side on his batting alone and is committed to pursuing a more targeted pre-season this winter in a bid to be fitter for the all-round role the captain Michael Clarke and coach Darren Lehmann require of him.
Little more than a year after he toured India as a non-bowling batsman, Watson is now at peace with his definition as an allrounder with a variable commission in the Australian batting order. Though he batted at No. 3 during the home Ashes, Watson is more likely to come in at No. 6 in Cape Town should, as is expected, he be included in the team seeking to win the series decider over South Africa.
"I know where I am at and where I have been with my batting in Test cricket especially, I haven't been as consistent as I would have liked," Watson said. "I don't warrant a spot as a batsman at this point, but I do know I can hold my spot as an allrounder.
"For this upcoming Test I will bowl what is required, hopefully I wont have to bowl much because it will mean the wicket's got a little bit in it and the main quicks have done their job. Once I have a decent break after the IPL I'll be talking to Alex [Kountouris, physio] and the doc [Peter Brukner] about getting a good pre-season in for the first time in quite a while to try and make my body more hardened to be able to bowl the overs I want to bowl."
These words will be music to the ears of Clarke in particular, who engaged in numerous debates with Watson over the course of his captaincy about what the former vice-captain's best role should be. Initially used as an opener following a successful stint at the top during Ricky Ponting's tenure, Watson found himself bowling more as Clarke valued his intelligent seam and swing as much as his destructive but variable batting.
The additional workload duly led to injuries and a shuffling up and down the batting order, something that has continued since Lehmann replaced Mickey Arthur as coach. Watson and Arthur lost respect for each other as time went on, culminating in his suspension from the Mohali Test in 2013. Lehmann and Watson have a demonstrably better relationship, contributing to the younger man's willingness to adapt.
They and Clarke had agreed upon Watson's demotion to No. 6 in the batting order for South Africa, before a calf problem intervened. This episode was the first significant setback for Watson since Brukner's successful use of dry needling to reduce tension in his muscles. It cost Watson his place for the first two Tests of the series, and his change bowling was badly missed in Port Elizabeth as the pace attack flagged on an unresponsive pitch.
"[A day] was what it was going to be initially but I came back a little bit too quick, it was only a couple of days before I was running and trying to bowl again," Watson said. "Initially it was only going to be a couple of days, and especially the techniques that Peter Brukner has got as well, he's got me through a hell of a lot of cricket.
"When something has flared up he's been able to help me to get over that very quickly. This time it didn't work exactly to plan. [But] it also gave me a chance to get my body right, I've had a few niggles through the summer that I was able to play with but this has given me time to get over those. It's worked out better because when I come back I won't have those niggles."
Thus a spectator at St George's Park, Watson watched Dale Steyn's mastery of reverse swing with some interest, having enjoyed success with the old ball himself. Cape Town was the scene of the dramatic 2011 Test, when what was arguably Watson's best Test spell - 5 for 17 - was obscured by Australia's subsequent disintegration for 47.
"It'd be nice if that happened again, and the conditions were the same - but not the back part of that [Test]. I couldn't get a run ... and started the rot when we got bowled out for 40-odd," Watson recalled ruefully. "The wicket has normally got a bit of seam and swing in it for the first couple of days. I know if I'm fit and I get picked that my bowling could be pretty suited to it.
"It's going to be a big challenge for us in this next Test, because they've got more bowling under their belt. I know Dale and a few of their bowlers were a bit underdone going into that first Test match, but they've got some more bowling under their belt now, and they were impressive in that last Test match."
Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here